ProPublica investigation questions physician payments

ProPublica published its first investigative story looking at physicians who are paid to promote pharmaceutical drugs and some of the issues that have arisen, including professional misconduct and patient safety.

ProPublica published its first investigative story looking at the physicians who are paid to promote pharmaceutical drugs and some of the issues that have arisen, including professional misconduct and patient safety.

The investigative news site partnered with the Boston Globe, Consumer Reports, Chicago Tribune, PBS, and NPR. All five of those media outlets also ran stories this week addressing the pharmaceutical industry's influence on doctors and how it affects patients. 

ProPublica combined data it took from company websites that post physician payments and compared the names of the highest-paid physicians to their credentials and disciplinary records. According to the story:

A review of physician licensing records in the 15 most-populous states and three others found sanctions against more than 250 speakers, including some of the highest paid. Their misconduct included inappropriately prescribing drugs, providing poor care or having sex with patients. Some of the doctors had even lost their licenses.

More than 40 have received FDA warnings for research misconduct, lost hospital privileges or been convicted of crimes. And at least 20 more have had two or more malpractice judgments or settlements. This accounting is by no means complete; many state regulators don't post these actions on their web sites.

I just spent a few days in Boston for PRWeek's healthcare roundtable and this issue - the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, and general disclosure and transparency within the pharmaceutical industry - came up more than once in my meetings with healthcare communications leaders.

So, what does this mean for the corporate communications and PR teams that work with pharma companies? What companies are addressing transparency the "right way?" And, what are the challenges in communicating transparency?

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