Doctor writing prescriptionsMedical device and pharmaceutical companies are gearing up for a big change in the way they deal with their most important middlemen: doctors. Beginning in 2013, they'll be required to report every dime they pay out to physicians in speaking fees, consulting, research, meals and business travel to the federal government. You say you didn't know your doctor was on a pharmaceutical company's payroll? Neither did I -- until this morning, when I searched a new database created by ProPublica, a nonprofit journalism organization, and discovered that one of mine has received money from two drug companies.

Doctors benefiting from relationships with drug or medical device companies is nothing new. Remember all the pens and stuffed animals and other branded tchotchkes that used to be scattered about doctors' offices? All those trinkets began disappearing a few years ago, after the pharmaceutical industry in 2009 voluntarily agreed to stop producing them, an effort to "try to counter the impression that gifts to doctors are intended to unduly influence medicine," reports The New York Times.

"But some critics said the code did not go far enough to address the influence of drug marketing on the practice of medicine,"
the newspaper goes on to say. "The guidelines, for example, still permit drug makers to underwrite free lunches for doctors and their staffs or to sponsor dinners for doctors at restaurants, as long as the meals are accompanied by educational presentations."

It's these "educational presentations" that are now gaining attention. According to ProPublica, "Eight pharmaceutical companies, including the nation's three largest, doled out more than $220 million last year to promotional speakers for their products." The slides used in the presentations are created by the drug and medical device companies, and these speakers are doctors that the companies pay to make presentations to other doctors about the benefits of various products.

And they can make serious money doing it. Nam Dang, a cancer specialist and speaker for drug manufacturer Cephalon (CEPH), raked in $131,250 in 2009 alone. Zale Bernstein, a Buffalo hematologist, banked $177,800 on the Cephalon circuit in 2010, and that's excluding the additional $35,000 for travel. Gerald M. Sacks, a Santa Monica, Calif., pain specialist, earned just shy of $500,000 in the last two years for his speaking and consulting gigs with four companies. And again, that excludes whatever he received in reimbursement for travel costs and meals.

"We continue to believe in the benefits and value that educational programs led by physicians provide to patient care," Eli Lilly (LLY) spokesman J. Scott MacGregor wrote in an email to ProPublica. But others are concerned that paying doctors to promote products creates a conflict of interest in which a patient's best interests may come second to a doctor's bank account.

The Hard Sell for the Wrong Drugs

Tracy Weber, one of the ProPublica reporters leading the organization's investigation, explains. "A lot of brand name drugs are not only super-expensive, but also have more severe side effects than older drugs. So it's important to ask if there is something safer or cheaper? Another drug I should be using? Or non-drug alternatives? Especially with devices. It's good to know if your physician is speaking on behalf of the company that makes a hip implant or heart device. Are they prescribing it based more on their relationship with the manufacturer rather than what's best for you?"

Weber is surprised by which doctors have earned the most money lecturing to other physicians. "When we started putting this together, we thought the highest paid, the top speakers, would be really brilliant physicians with lots of research in their specialty area. Many of the highest paid speakers had none of that, very little or no published research, no affiliation with academic centers. So their speakers are chosen for some other reason than their expertise."

Of course, there are legitimate reasons a doctor would receive funding from a medical device company or drug manufacturer. These companies offer critical research dollars to physicians to help finance laboratory space, staff, and other costs associated with medical science. And while it's easy to hear that a physician is on the company payroll and immediately assume the worst, Weber says that many of the doctors "feel very strongly that they are providing a valuable education service by talking about drugs they believe in." Consider, for example, doctors in rural areas who may have limited access to cutting-edge medical developments. They speakers can help to keep those doctors informed.

So what are consumers to make of ProPublica's database of doctors and the payments they've received? Well, its a straightforward search engine, so if you're at all curious, you should check it out: Simply enter your doctor's last name and state. And if something does pop up, as it did with my doctor, take a look to see how the funds are classified. My doctor received almost $25,000, but the vast majority of it was research money. Given that my doctor works at a major research institution, and has publicly acknowledged this financing previously, I decided I was comfortable with it. But if you're unsure how you feel, just ask your doctor for a few details about the relationship. As Weber says: "If your doctor doesn't want to talk to you about it, I think that's something worth noting."

Loren Berlin is a reporter with the AOL Huffington Post Media Group. She can be reached at, on Twitter at @LorenBerlin, and on Facebook.

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I said it people are total MORONS. Lets go back to the days before prescriptions and vaccines and you'll be lucky to live to 36. People need something to complain about. You pay more than ever for medications and doctors don't get jack sh-t from pharma. The lawyers and the insurance companies dictate what doctors do. Why not lobby and vote to have Congress receive the same benefits as the common folk and then you wiil have change. Doctors learn about the benefits and the risks of new medications from those little drug reps that you despise. Maybe if they dont you can die faster from lack of knowledge and you b-itch about that. Folks NOT ALL MEDICATIONS ARE FOR ALL PEOPLE. Its like saying that a pair of pants will fit everyone. You people are MORONS.

September 12 2011 at 2:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lloyd D. Domres

Please, what Doctor isn't?

September 11 2011 at 11:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

BIG BROTHER IS HERE and he lives in the Whiie House.

September 11 2011 at 11:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
prevent sickness

what you all must learned how to do is, take control of your own health. People this is not hard to do.
It is not your fault that you have these health conditions. What you must learn to do is prevent the condition from happening to you instead of unintentional waiting for it. practice prevention daily because there is some kind of toxin you are taking in daily from the air you breath to the sugar and fat you are digesting every day

Listen at my site, you can learn how to be healthy, you can find a solution to what ever disconfort you are feeling. Even your children can receive the benefits of being healthy. Just go to the site and take a look. Here is my site: I only ask, after you start to get your health back and you will share it with those you care about.

September 11 2011 at 10:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Some doctors are not on big pharmas payroll, but they believe all the "benefits" that the reps tell them. My late mother's doctor used to periodically prescribe newer medicines to her, even if the older ones were working. Why? Because the newer ones were supposed to be better. However, she used to complain about feeling "blah" - nothing specific, just feeling lousy. Her meds for cholesterol and blood pressure caused her blood sugar to go highter, so she was put on newer meds for that. Her meds for diabetes caused her to retain fluids (edema), so instead of changing them, she was put on a diaretic (?spelling). That screwed up her kidneys. She is now in a place where she has no more problems and does not need meds anymore.

September 11 2011 at 7:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Once again an article about the evils of physicians being paid by pharmaceutical companies to help with the research and distribution of knowledge about new and often improved treatments. Every dollar etc will be declared.
When will your eyes turn to the Lobbyists of the senate and congress. Want to find people on a payroll that hurts the american public more? Lets look there. you say a doctor made $131k speaking last YEAR. Isn't the hourly honorum of Some Lobbyist's more than that? Who are they influencing? Looked at that Debt Lately?

September 11 2011 at 6:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to fcb1954's comment

I agree with you that the bigger problem is that Big Pharm buys off all our elected officals in Washington. But you have got to be kidding that you think it's okay for these drug makers to bribe doctors into pumping unnecessary chemicals into peoples' blood on the rationalization that tthe profits subsidize research. That's like saying it's okay to blackmail some one as long as the ransom is for charity.

September 12 2011 at 12:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I recently was put on blood thinners and blood clot medications from having some kind of episode with losing movement, speech and eye sight and fading to black. I had test done on myself a month later that the cardiolgist did not do and the suppose blood clot is no longer their. These medication all by themselves bring a person close to death. After telling my cardiologist about the test he insist that I must say on these pharmacuticals meds if I wish to continue to live. I asked myself this ? Is this some kind of scare tactic being used to make people stay on long term pharmacuticals drugs for the benefit of the prescribing doctor to get paid off by the pharmacuticals companies. And now an artyicle backing up my very own thoughts. I quit the blood clot meds that was bringing me to near death experiences and feel much better. Even after seeing my gp doctor and going thru all my tests he even told me I should stop taking the stuff cause it's really bad news, hows that grab you?

September 11 2011 at 3:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to saksr1of3's comment

I am really sorry to hear this. It sounds like you had a major stroke. Yes the blood clot may be gone but another one may form. You need to take medications. Please discuss this further with another cardiologist. If you don't like the doctor try another one. Please, please this is serious stuff and they do have side effects.

September 11 2011 at 7:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robert Williams

If Anyone You Know Is Feeling Sick Unexpectedly, Check If They Have A so-called Smart Electric Meter On Their Home. So Many Reports Of Health Problems From These Smart Meters.

1. Must-See 4-minute youtube video on Smart meters:


2. The WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION May 31 2011 placed the Non-ionizing radiation coming from Wireless smart meters (and some other wireless devices) on the Class 2-B Carcinogen List.

3. The NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH Feb 2011 found biological changes in the brain after only minutes of exposure to non-ionizing radiation.

(1) Human Cell Damage
(2) DNA Chain Breaks
(3) Breaches in the Blood-Brain Barrier
from levels of non-ionizing radiation lower than emitted by WIRELESS Smart meters.

5. INSURANCE COMPANIES Hired Independent Laboratory Scientists and these scientists also observed Cell Damage and DNA Chain Breaks and now the Insurance Companies will NOT Insure Liability damage from Wireless Smart meters and other wireless devices.
TV Video (3 minutes):

So shouldn’t installation of Wireless smart meters on people's homes Stop?

Cell Phone use and other devices are Voluntary and can be shut off at the user’s discretion.

 Video Interview: Nuclear Scientist, Daniel Hirsch, (5 minutes):

Video Interview: Dr. Carpenter, New York Public Health Department, Dean of Public Health, (2 minutes):

 2-page Press Release.

9. RADIATION MEASURED FROM SMART METER MOUNTED ON A HOME (once active in the utility system) SHOWS RADIATION TRANSMISSION PULSES APPROXIMATELY ONCE EVERY FOUR SECONDS 24 HOURS PER DAY traveling through the bodies and brains of the inhabitants of that home.
Youtube Video (6 minutes, 1st minute is sufficient):

NOTE: many of the tests on non-ionizing radiation (the type of radiation emitted by smart meters) have been done using instruments other than smart meters because smart meters have only been in people’s homes for a very short time.

But as a Wireless smart meter emits 100 times more radiation than a cell phone, it is not difficult to project. If a machine gun (smart meter) fires 100 bullets in the same time that a pistol (cell phone) fires one bullet, it is not difficult to project the harm that the machine gun can inflict, even if the tests were done with the pistol.

September 11 2011 at 2:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Robert Williams's comment

Thanks for all the info. Just one question: What exactly is a smart meter and how do I know if I have one in my home?

September 11 2011 at 2:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Robin's comment
Robert Williams

Utliity companies are installing them throughout California, Texas and other states. The meters no longer have multiple dials with hands rotating around the dials to indicate utility usage. Instead they are digital read out meters. Also, they typically are no longer see through glass like the old reliable analog meters.

You can look at the meter and tell for yourself or call your utility company.

The Utility company makes $$$ Millions of dollars on these so they pretend they are good for customers.

September 11 2011 at 5:20 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down

oh the generic is just as good as the name brand, yeah right we have tri care prime from the military and I'm here to tell you it's not the free ride everyone thinks it is. they only cover generics for the name brand we take to a civilian drug store.and have to pay a co-pay. It cost more but our dr. will write out Rx in generic if he has to other wise it's generic, says he doesn't trust the generics and I tend to believe him I had back surgery a few years ago and was referred to a pain specialist. my dr. will not Rx a pain medication for me without talking to the specialist as he doesn't want a reaction, so I'll stay with him.

September 11 2011 at 2:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I used to take ONE name brand pill for blood pressure and it worked fine for me for YEARS. Once our insurance forced us to switch to generic drugs, my bp spiked and my DR had to add another pill to help the cheap generic pill work. Shortly after that she had to add another one and another. Now she gets to write FOUR scripts to keep my bp down where the ONE name brand pill used to work fine. Nothing else has changed in my life except for going to generics. I think it's pretty OBVIOUS what's happening here but yet my Drs will claim that generics are just as good as the name brands. I know for a FACT they are not. I also have family members who have Dispenced As Written on their scripts so that they do NOT get generics because some drs know that generic drugs are NOT the same and for thyroid and other serious conditions they make sure you get the name brand.

September 11 2011 at 12:33 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Gina's comment

Same kind of problem here. Coumodin blood thinner prescription without health insurance was a $125.90 and the generic warforin is only $11.00 but makes me feel really crummy.

September 11 2011 at 4:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply