Physicians Net Big Fees from Pharmaceutical Talks

Today’s Managing Health Care Costs Indicator is $219,975

That’s how much a single Harvard-affiliated physician made from speaking engagements for pharmaceutical companies during portions of the last two years.   This was reported by the Boston Globe / (reporting with Propublica, a nonprofit investigative reporting organization). Massachusetts physicians were paid $6.3 million during portions of 2009-10 by seven pharmaceutical companies that disclosed their payments.

Harvard, to its credit, has announced that its affiliated physicians would no longer be able to be on speakers bureaus as of January of next year.  The investigation also revealed that many of the physicians who got large speaking fees from pharma  were previously disciplined by their state medical boards. In one instance, a physician who was admonished by the FDA for making false claims for one pharmaceutical company continued to collect speaking fees from other pharmas.  Of course, many physicians who speak on behalf of pharmaceutical companies are top researchers in their fields.

I believe that most of the physicians giving pharmaceutical-sponsored talks represented their genuine clinical beliefs.  Still, here’s a link  to a New York Times magazine article by a physician who resigned from the speaking circuit when he felt his integrity was being compromised.

It’s impossible to remove all inappropriate financial incentives from the practice of medicine.  It’s also hard to believe that physicians could totally insulate their prescribing behavior when they can double their income from pharmaceutical speeches.   

This is an example of how sunshine is the best disinfectant. The Affordable Care Act requires more such reporting of physician financial relationships, which is a good start.

If you’re interested in seeing if your physician (or you) are in the Propublica database, here’s the link