fascinating article (free full text) written by a woman with MS who found out her neurologist made $300,000 in speaking and promotional activities in 3 years.
The writer, Maran Wolston, also happens to be a professor of medical ethics, so she renders her personal story in a particularly thoughtful way. When she first met her neurologist 5 years ago, she found out that he was being paid to do clinical trials of MS drugs, which gave her some pause--but she chose to stick with him because she thought his involvement in research might lead to better care. He invited her to participate in a trial he was doing, but after learning about the possible side effects, she declined. Six months later, he told her that her disease had worsened, and recommended Copaxone, a drug that required self-injections daily or every other day. While it caused fewer side effects than some generic alternatives, she found the injections very painful, and after several months she stopped it--and her neurologist agreed this is was a good idea.
But a year later, he found she had worsened again, and recommended the drug Tysabri. She researched it and learned about a checkered FDA approval history, and more alarmingly a rare but potentially deadly side effect. It was then that a friend told her about the Minnesota database of drug company payments to doctors. She learned that her neurologist had been paid $300,000 over 3 years by the makers of both Copaxone and Tysabri.
I like how thoughtfully she responded to this information:
"In fact, I have no idea whether my neurologist’s advice and judgment were affected by his relationships with the drug industry. But because I was his patient, the effect of those relationships was not a theoretical question—an issue to be bantered about over coffee or in the seminar room. It would have been foolish of me not to consider the possibility that the relationships were affecting my care. Having MS is difficult enough. The last thing I needed was to worry about whether my neurologist was acting in the best interest of the drug companies or in the best interest of me, his patient."
To find out what happens next, go read the article at the source in Health Affairs. The bottom line is that transparency, once it is implemented as part of the Physicans Payment Sunshine Act, will mean different things to different people. But ultimately, it will improve our health care system, because it will help to clarify when incentives are appropriately based on patient welfare, and when they are based more on money.
(Thanks to WBUR's Commonhealth blog for alerting me to this article).