Mississippi doctors are near the top of the list for receiving payments from pharmaceutical companies affording to a new study. MPB's Desare Frazier reports.
Seventy-eight percent of Mississippi doctors affiliated with a hospital received payments from pharmaceutical and medical device companies in 2014. That's according to a new study released by ProPublica, a non-profit online investigative news reporting agency. Mississippi and Louisiana tie for third place nationwide for the number of doctors who received payments. ProPublica Senior Reporter Charles Ornstein.
"Hospitals in the south have a relatively high rate of doctors who take payments from drug and device companies. Much higher than in other parts of the country and Mississippi is one of the top states," said Ornstein.
Payments fall into categories such as food and beverage, speaking or consulting fees and travel and lodging for conferences. Payments aren't illegal unless they are direct kickbacks for using a particular drug or medical device. But there's concern they influence doctors to prescribe more expensive medicines and devices. Cardiologist Dr.Clay Hays is with the Mississippi State Medical Association. He doesn't take payments. But he believes they have little impact on healthcare decisions.
"You can't say that every doctor is going to do that. I mean I see patients all the time. Sure I go down and talk to a pharmaceutical rep. about different things. But that's how I learn about things. But for me to think I'm going to take care of a patient based on a meal or a pen that's just silly," said Hays.
Pro Publica analyzed payments reported by medicare claims and payments reported by companies. That information is available as part of the Affordable Care Act. St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson, is at the top of the list. Ninety-two percent of it's affiliated physicians received at least $100--18 were paid at least $5,000. Baptist Medical Center in Jackson, is second and North Mississippi Medical Center, in Tupelo third. Professor Samuel Bruton teaches philosophy and ethics at the University of Southern Mississippi.
"If this didn't work, one would presume that the pharmaceutical companies would stop doing this. They spend vast amounts of money buying doctors lunches and tickets to sporting events whatever it is right. If it wasn't paying off in ways they had documented pretty well, you could be pretty sure they would stop doing it," said Bruton.
St. Dominic's Hospital policy states when physicians receive their credentials they must notify them of any conflict of interests including financial relationships with vendors. Baptist Medical Center says most of its doctors are private physicians. But, employees are not permitted to accept funds or any gift valued at $75 or more from companies seeking to do business with Baptist.
Dr. Hays says Mississippi physicians are supposed to follow the American Medical Association's Code of Ethics, which includes not accepting cash gifts that imply something in return. He also says the amount paid to doctors pales in comparison to what's spent on commercials.
"They spend a lot more money on direct to consumer advertising than they do on payments to physicians. So, for example if you look at the commercials all the time you see them talking about blood thinners or erectile dysfunction drugs," said Hays.
Roy Mitchell with Mississippi Health Advocacy Program says Mississippians can off set potential influence from companies by asking doctors if there are cheaper prescription alternatives.
"I think we've become too reliant on physicians as gatekeepers. The whole healthcare system is transforming. The payment structures are changing. All of these changes are premised on the fact that consumers are going to be more interactive. Consumers are going to be more proactive. They're on the internet. They're comparing physicians. We have to look at physicians like any other service we use," said Mitchell.
If you'd like to know how much your doctor may have received from pharmaceutical and medical device companies visit ProPublica's website "Dollars for Docs."