Now that Open Payments data is available to the public I decided to do some snooping around. It’s not hard to do. I was curious as to how much drug and device company money academic experts receive. As a cardiologist specializing in electrophysiology I have been to many national meetings, and it is always the same people year after year who chair the sessions, are on the policy committees, and write the guidelines. If you are an electrophysiologist you know whom I am talking about. I suppose every specialty has its own cadre of experts: the 1% who set the agenda for the rest of the us. The big names in our respective fields.
So I picked 3 names at random and downloaded their Open Payments data. Keep in mind that there are only 6 months of payment data available, and a third or more of the data has been withheld including most of the research payments. I only included data from the general payments database and excluded the research payments. I just picked the first 3 names that popped into my head, and won’t identify who these doctors are. My intent isn’t to embarrass anyone. They are all well known and meet the criteria for being an expert given above.
Expert A had 91 payments made over 6 months totaling $58,101. Most of the payments were from Medtronic and Boston Scientific. The majority of payments were listed under the categories of Food and Beverage or Travel and Lodging, but the larger payments were for Consulting Fees or speakers fees. The largest individual payment though was for travel, at just over $6000 from Medtronic.
Expert B had fewer payments (34) but a larger total. Over 6 months this expert was paid $112,115. The majority of payments were by Medtronic, with individual payments as high as $24,500. The description for one of these large payments was “Compensation for services other than consulting, including serving as faculty or as a speaker at a venue other than a continuing education program.”
Expert C had absolutely no entries in the database. Zero. Good for him! Or should we wait until the full dataset is released before coming to conclusions?
In this extremely unscientific sampling of 3 experts, compensation from drug and device companies ranged from zero to 6 digits in 6 months. Certainly one shouldn’t draw any firm conclusions from this. Nevertheless, the fact that money changes hands between drug and device companies and the experts who help write guidelines and lecture about these drugs and devices is concerning. Actual dollar amounts seem more stark and disconcerting than bland statements like Doctor X serves as a consultant for Company Y. Perhaps the Open Payments dollar amounts should be added to the disclosure slides that are shown at national meetings. A more thorough look at this data is warranted.