Finding A Doctor’s Potential Conflicts of Interest

Finding out if your doctor or the other trial team’s expert maintains financial ties to drug makers is about to become a lot easier. Soon, all it may take is a simple website search.

This week, the Cleveland Clinic became the first major medical center to publicly disclose the financial ties of its 1,800 doctors and researchers to pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers. These new disclosures are searchable online through the hospital’s staff directory. Search it for yourself, here.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, this newly disclosed information includes: “the names of companies with which they have collaborations, further identifying whether they have equity, the right to royalties, a fiduciary position or a consulting relationship that pays $5,000 or more per year.” For example, a search on one doctor resulted in financial ties to two pharmaceutical companies and a medical device manufacturer:

Consulting. Dr. XXXXX receives fees of $5,000 or more per year as a paid consultant or speaker for the following companies:

* Abbott

* Endocare, Inc.

* Pfizer Inc.

While Cleveland Clinic is the first major hospital to make these records public, expect more to be made available soon, and with greater detail.

The Physician Payments Sunshine Act, sponsored by Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin), likely to be considered next year, would require pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers to disclose their payments to doctors to the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill has already received some support from the industry itself, and major pharmaceutical companies Eli Lilly and Merck have recently announced they will voluntarily publish some of this information in online databases starting in 2009.

Other state-level laws, most notably in Minnesota and Vermont, have required similar disclosure to the state, but have been criticized for a lack of transparency and making patient access difficult.

For additional background on the issue and to learn more about the Cleveland Clinic’s new program, read this recent article from The New York Times.