The stories ProPublica is publishing today on the pharmaceutical industry are part of a broader effort to expand the possibilities of collaborative journalism.
The data were painstakingly assembled by Dan Nguyen, a ProPublica web developer whose talent for writing computer code is matched only by his persistence. Two ProPublica reporters, Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber, tracked down the doctors identified as the biggest earners and vetted their backgrounds. Weber and Ornstein uncovered hundreds who had been disciplined by state boards or lacked credentials as specialists, calling into question the pharmaceutical companies’ assertions that they hire only the best and the brightest.
The raw numbers on payments, which represent only a small fraction of the industry’s total outlay, are staggering enough: More than $257 million to some 17,700 doctors and other practitioners.
But the full impact of this investigative project arises from the combined efforts of ProPublica and five separate organizations – NPR, the PBS Nightly Business Report, the Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe and Consumer Reports. Each used the database to develop stories tailored to its local or national audience.
Now we are inviting every medical patient in the country to join this investigation. The database on our website includes every payment by seven drug companies that have publicly reported since 2009. We invite readers to type their doctor’s name into our search engine and find out whether he or she has received money from pharma.
This may put your next prescription in a different light. We ask readers to share their personal experiences with us as well. Let us know if you feel you were pushed to try a newly available drug or one that exists in a comparable form as a lower-priced generic. We are also interested in hearing about doctors who disclose the payments they receive, and those who do not.
By 2013, all drug companies will be required to publicly disclose payments to doctors. But we saw no reason for readers to wait three years for information that is already beginning to become available to anyone who could penetrate and scrape data from pharma’s labyrinthine websites.
In the not-so-recent past, such an investigation would have been undertaken by a single news organization racing to beat competitors to a “scoop.’’
We think we can achieve our primary mission at ProPublica – journalism that spurs change – by working in concert with other talented journalists and with the tens of thousands of people who will view, hear and read stories by this partnership.