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Data Murky on Drug Company Payments to Physicians

Publicly available data paints limited picture of how much is paid and to whom

TUESDAY, March 20 (HealthDay News) -- Despite laws in two states mandating public access to data on payments by pharmaceutical companies to physicians, the available data provide only a limited picture of such transactions, according to a study in the March 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Joseph S. Ross, M.D., of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, and colleagues analyzed publicly available data from Vermont and Minnesota from 2002 to 2004, to ascertain disclosures of payments to physicians of $100 or more.

The investigators found that in Vermont, 61 percent of payments were not disclosed because they were designated as trade secrets by pharmaceutical companies. In three out of four cases, there was insufficient information to identify the recipient. Of the 12,227 publicly disclosed payments totaling $2.18 million, there were 2,416 payments of $100 or more.

In Minnesota, only one-quarter of pharmaceutical companies filed in each of the three years, disclosing 6,946 payments totaling $30.96 million, of which 6,233 were for $100 or more. Only the data from Minnesota provided physician-specific analysis.

"The impact of disclosure laws on increasing transparency of physician-industry relations is compromised by incomplete disclosure as well as insufficient access to information," the authors conclude. "Making these payments publicly available will require more stringent laws with clear mechanisms for enforcement."

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