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A new federal law will require doctor gifts from drug and medical companies to be published in a freely accessible online database.

The Physician Payments Sunshine Act requires companies to begin recording any physician payments that are worth more than $10 in 2012 and to report them on March 31, 2013. That includes stock options, research grants, knickknacks, consulting fees and travel to medical conferences at chi-chi hotels. The details will be posted in a searchable database starting Sept. 30, 2013.

The measure is based on a bill that was introduced more than two years ago by Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Herb Kohl, D-Wis. The senators believe that physicians who receive benefits from drug and device makers are more inclined to prescribe the priciest products. –NPR

Many in the medical industry disagree with the new law. Some argue that because it only applies to physicians and teaching hospitals, but not to other medical professionals who prescribe drugs, it leaves exploitable loopholes.

"The use of the term ‘sunshine’ has an implicit aura of corruption," says Dr. Thomas Stossel, a professor of medicine at Harvard. (…) Stossel has accepted speaking and consulting fees from companies such as Merck and Pfizer, and he says he’s not opposed to his name appearing in corporate disclosures. But he does believe concerns about relationships between companies and doctors have been overblown. "What’s wrong with a company buying me lunch or giving me a tote bag?" he asks. –NPR

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.

Because the planned doctor-gift database will include explanations of exactly what services doctors provided for drug and device companies in exchange for compensation, it will hopefully increase public understanding and awareness of what a doctor-drug company relationship actually looks like, and will help patients make more informed decisions the drugs and medical devices offered to them.

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