Pharmaceutical Company Payments to Physicians

Recent legislation in five states and the District of Columbia mandated state disclosure of payments made to physicians by pharmaceutical companies. This study sets out to determine the accessibility and quality of the data available in two states where payment information is made available to the public, Vermont and Minnesota.

The authors found that the laws enacted by Vermont and Minnesota requiring payments from pharmaceutical companies to physicians and other health care professionals fail to provide the public with easy access to information about these payments. In Vermont, 61 percent of payments were not released to the public because pharmaceutical companies designated them as trade secrets, and 75 percent of publicly disclosed payments were missing information necessary to identify the recipient. In Minnesota, 25 percent of companies reported in each of the three years studied. The records show at the same time that substantial numbers of payments over $100 were made to physicians by pharmaceutical companies in Vermont (2,826 payments over two years) and Minnesota (6,946 payments over three years).

The authors conclude that the impact of disclosure laws on increasing transparency of physician-industry relations is compromised by incomplete disclosure, as well as insufficient access to disclosed information. Making these payments publicly available will require more stringent laws with clear mechanisms for enforcement.