Study digs into big money flowing to dermatologists

Money Pills

Dermatologists raked in over $34 million in industry payments, much of it from pharmaceutical companies, but how that affects patients remains unclear.

The dollar amount stems from a total of 208,613 payments made to 8,333 dermatologists, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Over $30 million went to just the top 10 percent of the dermatologists in the field, and though free meals accounted for 83 percent of the transactions, they only accounted for 13 percent of the amount of money changing hands. The largest categories in terms of payment amounts were speaker and consulting fees, followed by research payments.

Concern over the established link between payments from pharmaceutical companies and physician prescribing patterns led in part to the establishment of the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, from which the study gleaned its data. Despite increased pressure on physicians and pharmaceutical sales representatives, it’s unclear how successful the act’s increased transparency has been in reducing such payments, per previous reporting by FiercePracticeManagement.

“At the center of all this is concern about dishonesty and selfishness,” Hao Feng, M.D., the study’s lead author, told Time magazine. He said consulting work for pharmaceutical companies can be a double-edged sword, as some patients may view such activities as examples of physician leadership and industry prominence, while others see the relationship as a breach of trust. Patients are especially likely to view payments negatively if they involve food and beverages, Feng said.

Because the Sunshine Act only captures payments for medications or devices paid for by government programs, Time suggests the actual amount of money paid to dermatologists is likely higher than that reported by the study. The ultimate effect of such payments on the patient-physician relationship, prescribing patterns and care outcomes will require further research, per the study.