October 19, 2010
Drug Companies Hire Troubled Doctors As Experts
NPR Staff and ProPublica
Drug companies say they hire the most-respected doctors in their fields for the critical task of teaching about the benefits and risks of the companies' drugs.
But an investigation by ProPublica has uncovered hundreds of doctors receiving company payments who had been accused of professional misconduct, were disciplined by state boards or lacked credentials as researchers or specialists.
To vet the industry's handpicked speakers, ProPublica created a comprehensive database that represents the most accessible accounting yet of payments to doctors. Compiled from disclosures by seven companies, the database covers $257.8 million in payouts since 2009 for speaking, consulting and other duties. The companies include Lilly, Cephalon, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Pfizer.
Although these companies have posted payments on their websites — some as a result of legal settlements — they make it difficult to spot trends or even learn who has earned the most. ProPublica combined the data and identified the highest-paid doctors, then checked their credentials and disciplinary records.
That is something not all companies do.
"Without question, the public should care," said Dr. Joseph Ross, an assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine who has written about the industry’s influence on physicians. "You would never want your kid learning from a bad teacher. Why would you want your doctor learning from a bad doctor, someone who hasn't displayed good judgment in the past?"...