Much Ado about Nothing?

Lauren Barnett

Compliance Specialist, PharmaCertify™

Recently, the Financial Times published the results of an analysis of physician spend data conducted in conjunction with a pharmaceutical industry data firm. Publically available data showed that last year firms spent $437 million on meals, speaker fees, travel and the like. A few days later, Pro Publica updated its Docs for Dollars database. Their total for last year was $220 million.

Quite a difference, no?

The Financial Times article went on to say that data thus far this year showed companies had spent $150 million, which put the industry on pace to outspend the previous year. The Pro Publica report in particular was followed by the media hysteria over the amount of money doctors were receiving from physicians. Some local publications reported that spending on doctors in their states was up. One reported doctors were actually paid less.

While it’s entirely possible that companies are spending more, it‘s a bit of a wild west situation in terms of the data being reported at this point. The Financial Times referenced the lack of consistency in the data, with some companies reporting direct spend only and others including spend through institutions. Further, there is the issue of aggregating the data. Over time, the process of collecting and reporting the data is likely to improve. As the number of companies dedicated to helping manufacturers gather the data grows, so too does the accuracy of that data, and the appearance of an increase in spending across the industry.

Perhaps we’ll have a better sense of the state of the financial relationship between physicians and the industry once the Sunshine Act comes on line and all companies are reporting the same information. Until then, I suppose there is some value in evaluating the data now. The recent Pro Publica release did show some interesting changes at the company level, and there is something to be said in knowing your doctor “made the list.” I for one would like to know my doctors at least rate a deli platter for an occasional lunch and learn. If not, I’m asking questions. However, the media hysteria that typically follows this type of report should be dialed down a notch, until there is some consistency in the data.

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