Transparency in health care is a subject that has received a lot of attention in the last couple of years. State laws in Massachusetts, Vermont, Minnesota, California, West Virginia, Nevada and Washington DC require life science companies to disclose industry interactions with health care providers, and in a few cases, the data is then made publicly available on web sites. Additional data may be published by organizations under corporate integrity agreements (CIAs) that outline steps to ensure transparency. By most accounts, the number of public disclosures is expected to increase considerably with the finalization of the Sunshine Act that is set to take effect in January of 2012.
The publicly available data is drawing attention from various media outlets intent on drumming up negative sentiment on physician interactions with commercial organizations. These articles all follow a basic format:
- Provide a few examples of physicians that have received significant monetary benefit from working with industry.
- Solicit a quote or two from health care affiliated industry sources stressing the need for transparent or dramatically reduced physician interactions.
- Advise patients to check with their doctor on potential conflicts of interests that might exist.
- Scant mention that some interchange between doctors and industry might actually be a good thing.
While the degree of sensationalism varies widely between the articles, I would like to see more attention paid to the last bullet – the benefits that physician-industry collaboration can and have had on improving patient outcomes. Bringing a new pharmaceutical product or medical device to market depends on the expertise of researchers and clinicians who deal directly with patients and are involved in cutting-edge medical research. The collaboration between doctors at every phase of development is ubiquitous and essential for safe, effective treatments. Equally important is the role that life science companies serve as both a source for critical funding, but also a commercialization engine for continuously pushing the envelope of what’s possible in medicine. The smartest, most innovative physicians deserve research dollars that fuel tomorrow’s medical innovations.
The push for greater transparency in health care is a good trend that is gaining traction with regulations aimed at commercial entities as well as academic medical centers and hospitals. Rather than see both sides pull back from working with one another to develop new medicines and devices, I’d rather see the interactions managed in a manner conducive to continuing the pace of innovation that most have come to expect. To do that, we need to encourage the right kind of collaboration between health care providers and commercial organizations, not shame the industry into erecting barriers that limit necessary advances.
Photo by thecrazyfilmgirl