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Public Database of Pharmaceutical Payouts to Health Care Practitioners

by Lauren M. Nelson, JD on October 21st, 2010

ProPublica (, a Pulitzer Prize winning, independent, non-profit newsroom focusing on public interest journalism, has launched an investigation into the pharmaceutical industry’s practice of paying doctors to promote their drugs and has just released its findings. The investigation provides an early look at the information pharmaceutical companies are required to disclose to the government under the Physician Payments Sunshine Act. Part of the recent health care reform bill, the Act requires pharmaceutical companies operating in the United States to disclose to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services information about the doctors they pay to promote their drugs. Disclosure is not required until March 2013.

As part of its investigation, ProPublica created an easily accessible public database ( of pharmaceutical company payouts to doctors. The database lists provider names, amounts earned for speaking events, and amounts earned for consulting. It includes disclosures from seven companies and covers $257.8 million in payouts to approximately 17,700 health care providers since 2009. The seven companies, Lilly, Cephalon, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., and Pfizer, account for approximately 36% of the U.S. prescription drug sales. There are more than 70 pharmaceutical companies in the United States, all of which will have to disclose payout information by 2013. ProPublica intends to update its database with payout information from the other pharmaceutical companies as the information becomes available.

ProPublica has reported that many in the pharmaceutical industry pay doctors with disciplinary records or limited credentials to promote their drugs. It checked the disciplinary records and credentials of the speakers in the 15 most-populous states and three other states. It found sanctions against more than 250 speakers, including against some of the highest paid speakers. Some speakers lacked credentials. Others had reports of disciplinary actions including inappropriately prescribing drugs. ProPublica did note that many of the top-paid speakers had impressive resumes and expertise as researchers or specialists. The widespread publicity created by ProPublica’s disclosure will clearly draw attention to the ethical nature of the payments and the physicians who receive them.

While the payments are currently legal, health care practitioners should monitor the website to insure that the information is being accurately disclosed. Health care institutions should review the database for individuals they contract with or who are on their staff.

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From → Health Law