Study: Drug, device payments to physicians vary widely by specialty

A new study provides context to drug and device payment information released by government in July, revealing that payments vary widely depending on the physician's specialty.

Researchers from the University of California San Diego reviewed 2.4 million physician payments totaling $475 million between Aug. 1, 2013 and Dec. 31, 2013, which were made public by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Open Payments program. They found that internal medicine and orthopedic surgery had the highest payments ($111.1 million and $110.7 million, respectively), while cardiovascular and neurosurgical specialists had the highest proportion of physicians receiving payments (78 and 77 percent, respectively).

The principle investigator of the study, Jona Hattangadi-Gluth, M.D., said the analysis showed physicians in specialties that required a high level of intervention, such as cardiology or orthopedics, are more involved with research and development of drugs and devices, which can lead to higher royalty and license payments. According to the data, physicians were paid the most money for services ($113 million), royalties and license payments ($107 million) and consulting fees ($94 million).

"Our study not only identified how industry payments are distributed by specialty, it also helped put those payments in context," he said in an announcement.

Drug and device payment data has brought a new level of transparency to the interaction between physicains and drug and device manufacturers that, in some cases, presents a troubling image of fraud. The pharmaceutical industry in particular has a long history of disguising kickbacks as consulting or speaking fees. In some cases, this payment data can raise a red flag for investigators looking for potential kickback schemes.  

To learn more:
- here's the study
- read the announcement

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