The nation's medical device makers and drug companies will begin collecting this week what is expected to become a massive stockpile of data on their financial relationships with doctors, researchers and teaching hospitals.
A new federal disclosure law mandates that an array of pharmaceutical and medical manufacturers report payments to physicians, hospitals and other health care businesses that are more than $100 a year. Payments can include travel expenses, entertainment, consulting fees and research support.
The new rules emerged after six years of legislative and regulatory battles to address growing concerns that health companies were gaining inappropriate influence over research, education and clinical decisions. The provisions were eventually folded into the Affordable Care Act in 2010.
"Patients should have the right to know if their physician is getting paid by a certain drug company or has a financial interest in something that they are prescribing," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who co-sponsored the 2007 bill to require disclosures.
"We need to restore public confidence in why a company like (ours) would be interacting with doctors," said Tom Schumacher, vice president of ethics and compliance at Medtronic Inc.
Those ties lead to innovation and better care, said Chris White, the general counsel for the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed). "The public needs to understand the value of these relationships," he said.
A recent case that highlighted worries over doctor payments involved Minnesota-based Medtronic, one of the world's largest device makers.
The U.S. Senate Finance Committee alleged in October that Medtronic heavily influenced the content of medical-journal reports about its spinal fusion product, Infuse. The committee questioned whether doctors who supervised the studies understated Infuse's risk and overstated its benefits while receiving $210 million in royalties and consulting fees from Medtronic over a 15-year period.
Medtronic has denied that it improperly influenced peer-reviewed reports or sought to minimize potential harm.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who was the principal sponsor of the original bill, said Americans need a way to assess whether there's an unethical relationship between a doctor advocating a product and the company that makes it.
"(Infuse) is an example of what this is aimed at, but it isn't just aimed at Medtronic," said Grassley, adding that his staff has found many other instances.
Dr. Eugene Carragee, a Stanford University surgeon and editor of the Spine Journal, was among those who revealed the links between Medtronic and the Infuse scholarship. "If your main mission is taking care of patients, you have an obligation not to be so financially vested in the outcome of the �equipment you're using," �Carragee said.
The new law doesn't outlaw payments or business deals between companies and doctors or teaching hospitals, but it makes those transactions easily accessible to all Americans.
Starting Thursday, drug and medical companies must track transactions with doctors, teaching hospitals and some other health-related businesses. The first round of data must be submitted to federal regulators by the end of the year and will be made public by next September.
The new law comes with fines of up to $1.15 million for companies that fail to disclose. It also requires senior managers to sign off on the data, making them personally accountable to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the agency compiling the information.
The American Medical Association has a website devoted to the change and the AMA president posted tips in a blog.
Medtronics' Schumacher believes that may not have been enough. "I'm not sure the physician community knows this is coming," he said.
(Contact Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Jim Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)