Payments between hospitals and physicians, medical device and drug companies took the next step into openness Tuesday (Sept. 30) when the U.S. government unveiled its much-hyped Open Payments site, showing the details of at least $3.5 billion of B2B transactions over five months.
Records are split into three groups. General payments along with research payments and then physician ownership/investments. One example, according to Modern Healthcare, is that “manufacturers made 4.4 million payments to 546,000 physicians and 1,360 teaching hospitals from Aug. 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2013.”
Many stat breakdowns are available on the site, but the far most popular of the 20 views offered were Physician Profile (who doctors paid) and Ownership Payment Data (who doctors owned). How much more popular were they? As of mid-afternoon on Tuesday, the Physician Profile had been viewed 388 times and the Ownership Payment Data 152 times. To put that into context, of the remaining 18 categories, 7 recorded zero views and the next highest was 19 and then 17 views and then 11 and then 9.
Given that it was a highly-anticipated national web site, those numbers are extremely small, suggesting a lack of actual interest in the stats.
Modern Healthcare described the site as “the first public repository of national data describing financial relationships between industry and healthcare providers. Critics of these payments say these payments can inappropriately influence clinical decisions.”
But U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a supporter of the site, said knowing the flow of dollars can help consumers make better-informed healthcare decisions. “Transparency shouldn’t stop doctors from receiving a payment if they want to,” Grassley said. “It should empower consumers to learn whether their doctors take payments and if so, why, and whether that matters to them.”
The story said that Consumers Union—which publishes Consumer Reports—also applauded the site’s launch. “Consumers deserve to know the financial relationships among these players,” said Lisa Swirsky, senior policy analyst for Consumers Union. “These manufacturers need to put more focus on research, less focus on marketing, and we hope this kind of financial transparency will encourage that.”
Not surprisingly, various industry groups oppose the attempt at transparency. Arguing that the data was both inaccurate and lacked the context that consumers will need to draw correct conclusions, opposition to the site came from the American Medical Association, the Advanced Medical Technology Association and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
“In addition to publishing information about payments made to doctors, the website will present data on the financial relationships between hospitals and manufacturers and the potential conflicts of interest those relationships create,” the Modern Healthcare story reported. “The American Medical Student Association on Sept. 29 released its annual scorecard evaluating conflict-of-interest policies at 204 academic medical centers and 160 medical schools. The group said policies at these institutions generally fall short, noting that only 19 percent of teaching hospitals had policies requiring disclosure of potential conflicts of interest to the public.”