Doctors With Questionable Records Still Kept On As Drug Company Spokesmen

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Boston.com has posted an article about how many doctors that drug companies hire to be the spokesman for a drug actually have “questionable’ records. Drug companies say that they hire the “most respected doctors in their fields for the critical task of teaching about the benefits and risks of their drugs.”

But an investigation by ProPublica has brought to light that many doctors who are on drug companies’ payrolls have been accused of “professional misconduct”, lacked credentials as researchers or specialists in area of the specific drug, or had been disciplined by state boards.

A review of physician licensing records in the 15 most populous states and three others found sanctions against more than 250 speakers, including some of the highest paid. Their misconduct included inappropriately prescribing drugs, providing poor care, or having sex with patients. Some of the doctors had even lost their licenses.

More than 40 have received FDA warnings for research misconduct, lost hospital privileges, or been convicted of crimes. And at least 20 more have had two or more malpractice judgments or settlements. This accounting is by no means complete; many state regulators do not post these actions on their websites.

Five disciplined Massachusetts doctors appeared on the list. Their sanctions included engaging in “disruptive behavior with patients and other medical staff,” a lack of sensitivity during physician exams, and improperly peeking into employees’ medical records. They earned between $3,250 and $18,000 since 2009 from the seven companies that have disclosed payments.

There is quite a debate about whether or not doctors should be paid to endorse drugs because it might influence what they prescribe. Even small gifts or a small amount of money can influence some physicians, a study found.

ProPublica has also created a database system that keeps track of payments that seven drug companies make to various doctors. So far the database has tracked $257.8 million in payments, made just since 2009, for “speaking, consulting, and other duties.”

All told, 384 of the approximately 17,700 individuals in the database earned more than $100,000 from one or more of the seven companies in 2009 and 2010. Nearly all were physicians, but a handful of pharmacists, nurse practitioners, and dietitians also made the list. Forty-three physicians made more than $200,000, including two who topped $300,000. In addition to Lilly and Cephalon, the companies include AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., and Pfizer.

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