While drug companies have paid doctors in neighboring towns tens of thousands of dollars since 2009, Hopkins physicians have received comparatively little money from pharmaceuticals’ effort to spread the word about their products, according to a ProPublica database updated last week.
The “Dollars for Docs” database represents $2 billion in disclosed payments from a total of 15 companies who cumulatively hold 47 percent of the industry’s market share.
The payments cover:
- Speaking fees
- Consulting fees
- Travel fees
- Educational items or gifts
- Royalty or license fees
Pharmaceutical payments to physicians are not illegal, but critics say these payments turn doctors into sales reps, influence physicians’ prescription decisions and undermine trust in the health care system.
Backers counter that they provide important education on new drugs that benefits doctors and patients alike.
The ProPublica database likely understates the amount that doctors receive. Dozens of companies don’t publicize their payments to specific doctors. Most companies in the database are required to report because of legal settlements with the federal government.
Minnesota physicians received $26,502,825 of the total. The state also had one of the 22 doctors nationwide who have earned at least $500,000 from pharmaceuticals since 2009—Dr. Todd Hess, director of United Pain Center in St. Paul. ProPublica found 32 payments worth $542,900 from Eli Lilly, Forest, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.
But the database has only three records of payments to Hopkins doctors, two of which were meals from Irvine, CA-based Allergan. Suzette Elisabeth Sutherland was the only doctor who received anything from pharmaceuticals besides meals. Pfizer paid her $4,000 in speaking fees in 2009. The Minnesota Board of Medical Practice does not currently have a record of a doctor by that name.
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