New website addresses medical conflict-of-interest

As many seniors often grumble, they see their doctors more than they see their children. If your doctor receives a payment from a drug or device company, whether lunch or full-funding of a research program, can she or he stay objective about that company’s offerings? The answer may ultimately lie with the ethics of the individual doctor,* but now at least you have some resources to understand what’s going on behind the scenes.

The Open Payments website, mandated as part of the “Physician Payments Sunshine Act,” has just been launched by the the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. According to Modern Healthcare, it’s supposed to: “to increase transparency of payments for research, consulting and promotional work and other transfers of value of $10 or more, such as gifts, travel, and meals, made by manufacturers and group purchasing organizations to physicians and teaching hospitals. There also will be information about physicians’ ownership and investment in manufacturers or group purchasing organizations.”

You should be able to use Open Payments to check on your own doctor or hospital. Unfortunately, the website is overly detailed, and frankly, confusing. ProPublica does a good job of breaking down what’s on it, and more importantly, what’s still missing. Much information is redacted, although the government promises more complete updates.

ProPublica's Dollars for Docs.

ProPublica’s Dollars for Docs.

If you’ve got a legal or medical research background, you may be able to get something out of the current version of Open Payments, but at the moment, don’t expect something as simple as typing in your doctor’s name and getting an answer. For that, we suggest ProPublica’s website Dollars for Docs which is just what you’d like, although the answers you discover may not be.

*UPDATE: The Pew Charitable Trust has just produced an infographic about drug company influence that suggests we were being overly idealistic:

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Click on image to enlarge.

For the full graphic with more dismaying statistics, click here.