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Earlier this year, a new federal law was passed requiring doctor gifts from drug and medical device companies to be published in an online database that will be freely accessible beginning September 2013.

In the meantime, ProPublica has set up a project called Dollars for Docs—available online now—that takes some important first steps towards full disclosure of doctor gifts and payments from drug and device companies. The project is able to connect payments from seven major companies to doctors all around the country.

The team of investigative journalists found that 17,700 providers received such payments. Most of the money went to physicians, but nurses and pharmacists were also included, ProPublica said. The reasons for this money included speaking, consulting, business travel and meals.

More than 380 doctors received at least $100,000 from drug companies, according to the research. –CNN

Why is it important to know whether our doctors are being paid by drug and device companies? Well, for one thing, research shows that these kinds of payments greatly influence doctors’ prescribing habits. Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, has argued that even the small gifts that companies routinely doll out, such as free lunches, coffee mugs, flash drives, binders, book bags, and free samples, affect doctors’ prescribing behavior. A 2003 study Caplan coauthored and published in the American Journal of Bioethics found “indisputable [evidence] that small gifts had a tremendous power in influencing favorable attitudes toward products.” Accordingly, the University of Pennsylvania, along with Stanford and Yale Universities, now prohibits faculty and medical staff from accepting “even small gifts” from drug company reps.

Even worse,

[A]n investigation by ProPublica uncovered hundreds of doctors on company payrolls who had been accused of professional misconduct, were disciplined by state boards or lacked credentials as researchers or specialists. –ProPublica

All told, it’s worth a visit to Dollars for Docs to find out whether your doctor has ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

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