Most U.S. patients have seen a physician who received payments from drug or medical device makers, but few patients are aware that the doctor received such payments, according to a study published Monday in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
For the study, researchers surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than 3,500 adults. The surveys asked respondents about whether they knew about industry payments to physicians in general, the name of the physician they visited most frequently within the past year, and whether they knew whether that physician had received industry payments. A total of 1,987 respondents could be matched to a specific doctor, according to the researchers.
The researchers then examined data from the Open Payments website, a government-run site that reports industry payments to physicians, to see whether the named physicians had received industry payments. The researchers conducted the surveys in September 2014 and October 2014. According to the researchers, 94 percent of the surveys were completed before Sept. 30, 2014, when the Open Payments data was released to the public, but some payment data already were available in certain states before that date.Findings
The researchers found that among the respondents who could be matched to a certain physician, 65 percent had visited a physician who had received an industry payment during the past year. According to the researchers, 5 percent of patients knew whether their physicians had received industry payments, and 12 percent knew such information was available to the public.
Further, the researchers found that patients who visited certain specialists were more likely to have seen a doctor who had received industry payments. According to the researchers:
- 85 percent of patients who saw an orthopedic surgeon saw one who had received industry payments;
- 77 percent of patients who saw an obstetrician or gynecologist saw one who had received industry payments; and
- 65 percent of patients who saw a psychiatrist or neurologist saw one who had received industry payments.
According to the researchers, respondents who lived in states where physician payment data were not available before the Open Payments data were released were about 50 percent more likely to see a physician who had received industry payments than respondents who lived in other states.
In the states that had already made payment data publicly available, the researchers found that 34 percent of patients had seen a physician who had received industry payments. Respondents in states where the data already had been made public had a higher general awareness of physician payments, the researchers found.
The researchers wrote that the study's "findings suggest that although physicians who accept industry payments are in the minority, they are caring for a very substantial portion of America's adult patient population."
Genevieve Pham-Kanter, the study's lead author and an associate professor at Drexel University, said the ease or difficulty at which patients can access physician payment data could be linked to whether patients know about industry payments to physicians. She said the researchers think it is important to make payment information available in places where patients already seek out information on their doctors.
Further, Pham-Kanter said efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—which established the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, under which the Open Payments data was released—could inhibit patient access to physician payment data. "If the Sunshine Act, as part of the [ACA], is repealed, it will certainly move us backwards," she said (Whitman, Modern Healthcare, 3/6; Pham-Kanter et al., Journal of General Internal Medicine, 3/6; Drexel release, 3/6).
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