Is Your Doctor Under the Influence of Industry Money?

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Los Angeles orthopedic surgeon Thomas Schmalzried is no stranger to lawsuits — he’s named in at least 865 lawsuits related to complications from the metal-on-metal version of DePuy Orthopaedics’ Pinnacle hip replacement that he helped design.

Also active in marketing Pinnacle hip replacements, Schmalzried told a court that DePuy has paid him about $30 million in hip replacement royalties. These millions far surpass the money Schmalzried has made treating patients, Los Angeles ABC affiliate KABC-TV reported.

According to public interest news site ProPublica, in 2018 Schmalzried raked in $1.4 million in payments from four medical device companies, including Johnson & Johnson. But that sum pales in comparison to the $3.43 million paid the same year by Johnson & Johnson to Minnesota surgeon Daniel Berry for the same controversial DePuy Pinnacle hip implant.

The medical industry has long been awash in money paid to influence doctors and lawmakers. A comprehensive analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 48 percent of U.S. physicians received a total of $2.4 billion in industry-related payments in 2015 alone. The highest amounts typically went doctors in surgical specialties rather than in primary care.

Now a new, free searchable ProPublica database — Dollars for Docs — is collecting and reporting all of this industry money to doctors. Dollars for Docs increases healthcare transparency by making potential sources of physician influence open to the public. Patients can enter their doctor’s name on the Dollars for Docs homepage and find out whether their healthcare provider has taken money from drugmakers or device makers. Dollars for Docs show all forms of payment, including money for meals, gifts, travel, consulting, research activities and speaking fees.

To date, Dollars for Docs has tracked a total of $12 billion in disclosed payments to more than 1 million doctors and 1,249 teaching hospitals.

This physician payment data is publicly available thanks to a patient-friendly provision of the federal Affordable Care Act known as the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which requires the healthcare industry to disclose each year the amount of money it has paid to physicians and hospitals. The goal of the information-sharing is to “increase transparency around the financial relationships between physicians, teaching hospitals and manufacturers of drugs, medical devices and biologics,” according to the American Medical Association.

Dollars for Docs also highlights the doctors who received the largest single sums of money and the greatest number of payments from the device and drug industry. For example, in 2018 Memphis neurological surgeon Kevin Foley was the top earner, receiving a combined total of $29 million, while Texas psychiatrist Rakesh Jain received 1,140 separate payments.

Dollars for Docs

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Search for your doctor in ProPublica’s interactive database.

By Nicole Knight

Nicole Knight is a freelance writer based in Southern California. A former reporter for the Orange County Register, she most recently covered issues related to women’s health and economic justice for the nonprofit site Rewire.News. Her bylines have appeared in outlets ranging from Pacific Standard to Parents.com, reflecting her varied interests. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Follow her on Twitter @nicolekshine.

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