I was happy to be involved in the recent Modern Healthcare article on biosimilars naming, “Fate of cost-saving biosimilar drugs may hinge on naming policy” (July 6, p. 7), and thank the publication for correcting the pharmaceutical payment attributed to my name. There are two rheumatologists named Kent Huston in our practice (the other is my father), and the payments listed under my name totaled $446.62 while his totaled $1,399.75. The combined total was mistakenly used for the article instead of just mine.
What I find alarming is the error in the number reported on the CMS Open Payments website itself, because it should actually be closer to zero. Pharmaceutical companies sometimes sponsor lunches at our office when they would like to speak to the group. I do not participate in the lunches (do not speak with the reps or eat the food), but my father does. He is able to glean useful information from reps, such as programs that help patients with access to expensive medications. I prefer to avoid interactions with pharmaceutical companies that involve payments (in this case, sandwiches, chips, pizza, drinks, etc.). I don't see either approach as right or wrong, but just a personal decision.
However, there is clearly a problem in attributing payments to the correct physician. Unfortunately, reps are not always accurate in reporting who received lunch. The CMS website also lacks middle initials, making it even easier to confuse physicians. Last year, I discussed this with reps from various companies and disputed a number of charges, which were then removed. I had not re-checked the Open Payments website until this article was published and was surprised that payments continued to be associated with my name despite me not accepting anything of value from drug companies.
I do not have an ethical issue with pharmaceutical companies sponsoring a few lunches, and I do not think physician practice is being influenced by the price of a sandwich. In fact, the lunches actually offer an opportunity for dialog and to share relevant information. However, I do feel strongly that the Open Payments website is not accurate, and the only sure way of avoiding future inaccuracies is to restrict pharmaceutical reps from bringing anything of potential value to our practice. I hope the website can be made more accurate in the future, since bad information is worse than no information.