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With Our Dollars for Docs Update Coming, Drug Companies Defend 'Interactions' With Physicians

As ProPublica gets ready to refresh its Dollars for Docs database listing payments from drug companies to hundreds of thousands of doctors, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America says paid physician speakers play a critical role in improving patient care.

Tonight, ProPublica will be posting a significant update to its Dollars for Docs database, adding new payment reports from 12 drug companies that comprise more than 40 percent of U.S. drug sales. Hundreds of thousands of doctors will be added to the database.

In advance of the update, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America issued a statement defending drugmakers' interactions with physicians.

"Interactions between biopharmaceutical research companies and healthcare professionals play a critical role in improving patient care and fostering appropriate use of medicines," wrote Diane Bieri, the group's executive vice president and general counsel.

The PhRMA release does not explicitly note that doctors and other health professionals are being paid for giving promotional speeches, calling them “peer education programs.” ProPublica's analysis found that some physicians earn more than $100,000 a year from the practice.

PhRMA cites a recent survey of 508 physicians in which nine out of 10 attendees of pharma-sponsored physician speeches said they found information they received to be useful. More than half of attendees said they often gain knowledge or skills helpful to their practice.

A different survey, conducted by Consumer Reports last year, found that more than three-fourths of 1,250 adults said they would be “very” or “somewhat” concerned about getting the best treatment or advice if their doctor were accepting drug-company money. And 70 percent said doctors should tell their patients about such payments if they are going to prescribe drugs from one of those companies.

The survey, with a sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percent, was conducted in collaboration with ProPublica's investigation into promotional payments from drug companies to doctors.

In addition, a host of whistle-blower lawsuits have accused some companies of inappropriately promoting their drugs for uses not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or for giving kickbacks to physicians who prescribed their products. Companies have paid billions of dollars in recent years to settle the cases, and some have pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

The Dollars for Docs database was first published in October 2010. With this update, ProPublica has made the data available in advance to dozens of media organizations that have expressed an interest.

Portrait of Charles Ornstein

Charles Ornstein

Charles Ornstein is a deputy managing editor at ProPublica, overseeing the Local Reporting Network, which works with local news organizations to produce accountability journalism on issues of importance to their communities. From 2008 to 2017, he was a senior reporter covering health care and the pharmaceutical industry. He then worked as a senior editor.

Portrait of Tracy Weber

Tracy Weber

Tracy Weber is a senior editor at ProPublica. Previously, Weber was a senior reporter covering health care issues at ProPublica and, before that, she reported for the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the Orange County Register.

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