Are drug companies paying your doctor in San Diego?

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Doctors are among the most trusted professionals in today’s economy.

But perhaps a healthy skepticism is warranted after an investigation spearheaded by ProPublica sheds light on a financial relationship many doctors have with drug makers.

The investigation revealed there are more than 17,000 doctors nationwide receiving payouts of almost $260 million in the last 18 months, from seven pharmaceutical companies alone, for  “speaking, consulting and other duties.”

The study found many physicians are paid by drug manufacturers to promote particular drugs to fellow doctors at conventions and conferences.

At least 147 doctors receiving payouts from drug companies practice in San Diego. You can see if your doctor is one of them by searching ProPublica’s database.

The investigation finds that some of the doctors advertising drugs at confernces aren’t qualified to do so, as the report states:

“Hundreds of doctors paid by pharmaceutical companies to promote their drugs have been accused of professional misconduct, were disciplined by state boards or lacked credentials as researchers or specialists.”

The accusations of professional misconduct include sex with patients and filling out improper prescriptions.

It’s understood a close relationship between doctors and drug manufacturers is imperative for advancing the medical field. However, the concern is that doctors are getting paid to advertise drugs that aren’t best suitable, or are potentially harmful to patients. On some occasions, even illegal drugs have been promoted – as evident in several multimillion-dollar lawsuits filed by ex-employees of drug companies.

This excerpt is taken from ProPublica’s investigation:

In several (lawsuits), the ex-employees say, the physicians were told to push “off-label” uses of the drugs — those not approved by the U.S. regulators — a marketing tactic banned by federal law.

In the past three years alone, pharmaceutical companies have anteed up nearly $7 billion for settlements in (these) cases…

It is legal, however, for doctors to accept money from drug makers for promoting legal drugs.

But according to a survey of 1,250 adults conducted by Consumer Reports magazine, 74 percent disapprove of doctors taking “payments from drug companies in exchange for promoting the benefits of those companies’ drugs to other doctors in presentations at conventions and conferences.”

It’s likely there are even more doctors accepting money and gifts from drug makers than the 17,000 in the report. The investigation only included seven drug companies, of which not all have disclosed their entire payments for the 18-month period. Also, there are 70 more drug manufacturers that have yet to release their data. By 2013, these companies will be required to disclose this information as part of a health care reform law passed in March.

Of the data currently compiled, California doctors are the largest recipients of payouts from drug manufacturers.

Photo by Tom Varco.

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