The independent, collaborative journalism team ProPublica has begun publishing the results of their investigation into speaking fees, honoraria, and other payments large pharmaceutical companies have made to physicians nationwide. Essentially, big pharmaceutical manufacturers have spent millions of dollars to recruit doctors to speak on behalf of their products to other physicians.
The doctors are identified as “thought leaders” by drug marketers and hired to educate other physicians about the benefits and risks of the company’s drugs. The compensation individual doctors nationwide have received reaches into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, though physicians claim not to be influenced by the cash. However, former drug company sales reps tell ProPublica that there is a significant “return on investment” from these paid speaking gigs.
In other words, physicians who are paid to speak on behalf of a drug almost always, perhaps unwittingly, write more prescriptions for that drug than before—enough so to make the speaking fees and honoraria worthwhile for the pharmaceutical companies.
The problem patients have with this scheme is that some of these physicians have been paid to promote potentially dangerous drugs like Avandia, and presumably increased their volume of prescriptions for those drugs.
In addition, ProPublica reports that a significant number of doctors in their database of pharmaceutical company payees have been sanctioned or disciplined for professional misconduct, including the highest-paid doctors on the list. At least twenty of the doctors on the list have settled or lost medical malpractice lawsuits.
ProPublica is continuing its investigation into this matter, and as drug injury lawyers, Long & Long will pay close attention and keep you informed here on our blog. ProPublica may investigate how many drugs that physicians were paid to promote ended up being recalled by the FDA for causing prescription drug injuries.
ProPublica’s website allows you to find out if your doctor has been taking payments from pharmaceutical companies.