Open Payments website launches

The federal government today launched a highly anticipated website detailing at least $3.5 billion in financial ties in a five-month period between medical-device and drug companies and physicians and teaching hospitals.

The Open Payments website is 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.

The database was required by the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, a provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that was spearheaded by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

The records are organized into three categories: general payments, research payments and physician ownership and investments. Manufacturers made 4.4 million payments to 546,000 physicians and 1,360 teaching hospitals from Aug. 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2013. More records will be published for this period at a later date.

The Open Payments website is expected to increase transparency of payments for research, consulting and promotional work and other transfers of value of $10 or more, such as gifts, travel, and meals, made by manufacturers and group purchasing organizations to physicians and teaching hospitals. There also will be information about physicians' ownership and investment in manufacturers or group purchasing organizations. In addition, the CMS has proposed to include payments to doctors who provide accredited continuing medical education services.

“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.”

Concerns about the accuracy of some payment records prompted the CMS to withhold about one-third of the data for the launch. Those records are published in a de-identified format that does not include specific information such as the name of the physician. The CMS plans to refresh the 2013 data before the publication of the 2014 data.

Citing concerns about the accuracy of the data, the American Medical Association has urged the CMS to delay publication of the database. Other groups including the Advanced Medical Technology Association and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America have expressed concerns about whether the database would provide adequate context to enable consumers to understand what the payments represent and how they can promote healthcare research and better quality of care.

Meanwhile, supporters of the Sunshine Act hope patients will gain access to information to help them understand how payments may influence their doctors to prescribe certain drugs or order particular procedures or other services. “Consumers deserve to know the financial relationships among these players,” Lisa Swirsky, senior policy analyst for Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, said in a written statement. “These manufacturers need to put more focus on research, less focus on marketing, and we hope this kind of financial transparency will encourage that.”

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 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% of teaching hospitals had policies requiring disclosure of potential conflicts of interest to the public.

Follow Jaimy Lee on Twitter: @MHjlee



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