The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) recently published its annual report of payments made to Massachusetts prescribers by pharmaceutical and medical device companies. The data covers payments for speaking, consulting, grants, food, educational programs, marketing studies, and charitable donations – totaling $64 million in 2010.
This reporting is required as part of the Massachusetts gift ban and disclosure law, also called the Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Manufacturer Code of Conduct, which bans drug and medical device companies from providing gifts to doctors, nurses, pharmacists, hospitals, and other health care providers as part of their marketing practices. The law further requires reporting of certain provider payments from the drug and medical device industry, which DPH makes public.
The DPH database is fully searchable by provider name, drug or medical device company name, or payment category, and is touted as the nation’s most comprehensive. Data is also available in various formats, including options to download the entire database and view prepared reports giving summaries and details of the top manufacturers, physicians, hospitals, and other prescribers. The data allows consumers to see if their doctor or hospital received any payments from the industry, thereby increasing transparency and opening the door for discussions between consumers and their providers.
Payments from 2010 appear to have decreased from 2009 – the first year that such data was collected and made public. It is unclear how much of this drop is a result of the gift ban law, and how much can be attributed to other policies that further restrict gifts from drug and device companies to physicians. A number of medical schools and hospitals are mirroring and going even further than the requirements of the existing law. Partners HealthCare, which includes Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s, enacted a revised policy (pdf) in January 2010 prohibiting gifts from industry and the participation of its doctors in promotional drug company speakers bureaus. Harvard Medical School also recently amended its Conflicts of Interest Policy to prohibit all faculty from receiving gifts, travel or meals from industry, while University of Massachusetts, Boston University, and Tufts University medical schools all have similar policies in place, receiving high marks on the American Medical School Association scorecard released today.
These policies, along with the gift ban law, seek to address critical concerns that marketing practices can influence prescriber objectivity, creating potential conflicts of interest for physicians and comprising the integrity of doctor-patient relationships. Such restrictions are also a crucial part of efforts to control rising health care costs, as marketing tactics can often lead to unnecessary prescribing of expensive brand-name medications over equally effective generics.
Payment disclosure remains an essential part of Massachusetts’ overall efforts to curb health care costs and guarantee of the ethical delivery of health services. This data allows consumers and other health care stakeholders to gain a better perspective of the influence industry representatives may or may not have on their health care providers. We thank DPH for making such comprehensive disclosure data available for consumers and the public, and look forward to seeing how this data will empower consumers to engage in their health care decisions.
-Alyssa Vangeli & Kaitlyn Rhodes