Docs in Jersey, Dixie rake in pay from Big Pharma, medical device makers

Stacks_of_moneyBig Pharma is not just  whistling Dixie, as Southern, for-profit hospitals lead the nation in rolling out the welcome mat so doctors can take meals, consulting, and promotional payments from drug and medical device companies, an investigation shows.

Pro Publica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative site, has put up its latest findings from its multi-year tracking of which doctors at which hospitals across the country report, as they are legally required to, to federal authorities that they have taken the blandishments of Big Pharma or medical device-makers.

Docs scooped in the most green from these providers in the Garden State: Pro Publica found almost 8 in 10 MDs in New Jersey−where many in Big Pharma have their headquarters−took such pay in 2014. Almost 8 in 10 physicians in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama took the money.

In Virginia and Maryland, roughly 6 in 10 docs received Big Pharma or device-maker pay; that’s about the U.S. average. Pro Publica also provides a nifty online option so patient-consumers can see how hospitals near them and their doctors rank on this shameful practice.

How gross has this ethically debasing influence gotten? Stat, the online health news site, takes a different look at the physician payments by Big Pharma and medical device-makers, finding a bloated sum totaling $6.5 billion going to MDs and teaching hospitals.

Stat observes that:

Physicians or their family members held $1 billion in ownership or investment interest in those [drug- or device-making] companies. Novartis topped the list with more than $539 million reported in payments to health care providers, a big jump from $302 million in 2014. … Next was Genentech, which reported $470.3 million. In 2014, Genentech led the pack at nearly $385 million. In third place was Pfizer, with more than $436 million, although the company filed the largest number of reports.

I’ve written recently about a jaw-dropping study that found, despite the comfortable salaries they make, doctors and their prescription pads, effectively, can be bought by drug company representatives for the cost of a pizza and a couple of sodas−$20 or so. Our docs may be so frailly human that they’ll order you to take a more expensive drug that’s not necessarily more effective, just so the hustling pharma rep seems to like them.

To its credit, Kaiser Permanente, an HMO that runs 38 hospitals in California, has banned industry reps and has made clear to physicians just how poorly it thinks of the practice of “food, friendship, and flattery.” Fewer than 3 in 10 Kaiser docs reported receiving payments, and the organization’s spokesman said those numbers may reflect physicians declaring in an abundance of caution−they may have been at seminars or conferences where free grub was available and so reported that they took it, even though they not have eaten it.

If you check out the payment databases online, particularly the really useful ProPublica tools, and you find your physicians on the craven end of these practices, what might you do? Ditch that doc, quick?

Maybe we all need to ensure our elected officials, many of them recipients of Big Pharma and medical device-makers’ lobbying, hear from us, too, that we want this practice halted because it harms our care. Maybe, at a personal level, we all might go to a bad fast food outlet and get a double-double version of their worst, let it get cold and greasy, and leave it with our greedy docs. We could let them know that we’d be happy to donate to the hungry on their behalf, instead, if they give up their whopping, cheesy gift taking.

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