Doctors have long been suspected of prescribing expensive medicines to their patients regardless of the availability of cheaper and comparably effective drugs in exchange for rewards and gifts from the pharmaceutical company.
Such shady relationship between doctors and drug makers is placed on spotlight now that the government has released comprehensive data that reveal the financial links between drug and medical device companies and the health service providers that use and prescribe their products.
"The reason companies pay physicians honoraria and give them gifts and consulting fees is ultimately to influence the prescribing practices," said Michael Carome of Public Citizen, a nonprofit watchdog group.
An analysis of government data released Tuesday revealed that drug companies and device makers spent about $380 million for doctors' speaking and consulting fees from August to December last year. Some doctors individually received more than half a million dollars and some earned millions in royalties from the medical products that they have helped develop.
The data, which were released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), were part of the initiative called Open Payment required under the President's Affordable Care Act.
"Using this new data, it is now possible to conduct a wide range of analyses of payments made by drug and device manufacturers," said CMS Center for Program Integrity director Shantanu Agrawal. "While these data could discourage payments and others transfers of value that might have an inappropriate influence on research, education, and clinical decision-making, they could also help identify relationships that lead to the development of beneficial new technologies."
The first batch of data on the payments made by drug and device companies to hospitals and doctors from August to December last year involved 4.4 million payments of almost $3.5 billion given to 546,000 doctors and nearly 1,360 teaching hospitals.
The data revealed that Medtronic Inc., the largest maker of heart rhythm devices in the world, spent over 30 million during the five-month period in 2013, which included nearly $3 million that was paid to an unidentified physician. Johnson & Johnson, which produces both drugs and medical devices, also shelled out $68 million for doctors and hospitals for non-research related expenses. Bristol-Myers, which develops cancer medicines, likewise paid nearly $12 million for consulting, travel and other activities of doctors and hospitals.
An analysis made by the Associated Press showed that orthopedists, cardiologists and adult medicine specialists were among the medical professionals who tend to receive from drug and device companies in forms of cash, gifts, services and stock options.