Surgeon gives perspective on medical payments database
COLUMBIA - The medical field brings in trillions of dollars a year. It puts a lot on the line for your health and for the bottom line of others.
The government put in safeguards nearly a decade ago to help prevent people, medical device makers, and pharmaceutical companies from taking advantage of the system.
Since federal legislation in 2007, money going between doctors and companies has been tracked and reported. In recent months, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began posted payment data for doctors nationwide. The data goes back to late 2013 and will continue to be updated.
KOMU-8 recently looked at that data for all doctors in Columbia and found hundreds of thousands of dollars going to doctors for a variety of reasons from royalties to travel expenses.
Dr. Todd Oliver, a Columbia orthopedic surgeon, had around $100,000 in payments logged in the newly available data system. The payments were described as for royalties or licensing.
Oliver spoke with KOMU-8 about how the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, and the new reporting system, impact doctors. He explained the need for tracking arose from ethical problems with some doctors and others in the medical field years ago.
"Unfortunately, there were some bad apples... Some companies that actually paid surgeons to use their implants in patients... And obviously that is unethical," Oliver said.
That doesn't mean the money has stopped flowing. In fact, according to a PEW study, pharmaceutical companies spend much more marketing to doctors than patients.
"It makes sense... If a drug is developed... Or a new implant comes to market, it is the physician that needs to know about that implant or drug," Oliver said.
The PEW report indicates the approach of companies is indeed to influence the prescribing habits of doctors, but while the payment amounts and general categories of payments are now available online, it is difficult or impossible to know the exact nature of relationships between each company and each doctor.
"I don't mind that the numbers are there... But I just wish they were a little bit more descriptive so the general public can say, 'Okay I don't want to go this physician because he takes money for doing nothing'... Or I do want to go to this physician because, "Wow he has developed something used around the world'," Oliver said.
Steps have been taken by the the government, doctor's offices, and the companies themselves to guard against unethical actions; however, Oliver said the more restrictions you have, the harder it can be for doctors.
"You went into medicine to help people. We wake up everyday doing a job that is getting harder and harder to do... Because of the bureaucracy that is being laid before us the scrutiny we see every day," Oliver said.
Oliver's payments are royalties from a product used worldwide.
To see the government database referenced in this story, click here.