"Dollars for Docs" Project Sheds Light on Drug Company Payouts

Six news organizations launched the "Dollars for Docs" project, an ongoing investigation of drug company payments to physicians, including a searchable database of doctors by name and state. Are you on the list? Are your colleagues?

Do you take money from major pharmaceutical companies for speaking engagements, consulting or other services? Do your colleagues?

In an effort to shed more light on the issue of physicians taking payments from drug companies -- raising troubling concerns among patients and the medical community about conflicts of interest -- six news organizations (ProPublica.org, National Public Radio, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and Consumer Reports and PBS’s "Nightly Business Report") this week released the “Dollars for Docs” project.

Reporters and editors working on the project examined $257.8 million in payments from seven major drug companies -- AstraZeneca International, Cephalon Inc., Eli Lilly & Co., GlaxoSmithKline PLC, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co. and Pfizer Inc. -- to nearly 18,000 healthcare professionals nationwide. The project includes a searchable database of physicians by name and state, along with investigative reporting and consumer surveys conducted by the individual news organizations.

In an explainer note, the investigative news website ProPublica noted that it’s legal for drug companies to compensate physicians for their services, and that appearing on the list doesn’t mean the physician is wrong. “But research has shown that drug-company marketing can influence what a doctor prescribes, and some experts say it is cause for concern,” the website reported.

According to ProPublica, 384 of the roughly 17,700 individuals in its database earned more than $100,000 on behalf of one or more of the seven companies in 2009 and 2010. Most were physicians, those some were pharmacists, nurse practitioners and dietitians, ProPublica said. Forty-three physicians made more than $200,000 — including two who topped $300,000.

The five highest earners on the ProPublica database are:

Physician, Location

Specialty

Total Payments

Firhaad Ismail, Reno, Nev.

Internal Medicine, Endocrinology

$303,558

Stephen H. Landy, Cordova and Memphis, Tenn.

Neurology

$302,125

Samuel Dagogo-Jack

(Not specified)

Internal Medicine, Endocrinology

$257,012

Mark Sweeny,

Crane Hill and Decatur, Ala.,

(Not specified)

$255,170

Thomas Oates, Lakeland, Fla.

Internal Medicine, Endocrinology

$254,263

This list is not comprehensive, since physicians and others on the list may have received payments from drug companies that haven’t reported payments. Under new healthcare reform legislation, all drug companies will be required to report the information to the federal government by 2013.