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August 31, 2011

ProPublica Dollars for Docs Campaign of Shame II: Coming to Your Local Media Outlet September 8th

Wanted poster doctor 
In the old west posters were put up around town looking for criminals and wanted men.  Today, industry critics are assembling wanted posters and list of who they consider their enemies, but this time it is hard working doctors as opposed to criminals.  They are seeking to shut down the relationships between physicians and industry scientists working on cures with their Dollars for Docs “campaign of shame.”  

Almost one year ago, the infamous and so-called “investigative journalist” shop known as ProPublica, published its Dollars for Docs database.  The database combined seven pharmaceutical companies’ payment data and created a searchable site to see how much a particular doctor was paid. 

Of course, the website and media stories that followed failed to portray such payments in an objective manner and offered minimal, if any context of such payments, publishing numerous articles about only the potential negative consequences of physician-industry payments and collaboration.

Consequently, ProPublica announced this week that it is preparing a major update to its Dollars for Docs database on September 8, 2011.

In doing so, ProPublica privately invited “news organizations to participate in a roll-out of stories based on the new data.”  In other words, ProPublica is getting ready to attack more hardworking physicians who educate their peers, conduct clinical research, and consult with industry to ensure that Americans have the most advanced treatments and medicines. 

In fact, ProPublica is “offering the data in advance to all interested news organizations that agree to withhold publication of their stories prior to the launch of their update.”

ProPublica said it “will make the data available on Aug. 22, under an embargo that lifts at 9 p.m. on Sept. 7.”  In addition, ProPublica stated that they can provide media sources “with payment data for the state or states you cover, as well as a guide to using the data,” and reporters Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber will also be available to offer advice and tips.  Essentially, ProPublica will be feeding their stories and biased viewpoints to local media sources.

In the past, local media sources simply would do a “search” on the ProPublica database for doctors in their area, and then publish a one-sided article critical of industry.  Such articles were hardly if ever “objective,” and almost never included an opposing viewpoint showing the value of physician-industry collaboration.

According to their email, ProPublica will publish an updated version of their searchable database of payments that will now include data from 12 drug companies (about 40 percent of the U.S. market). The new information includes a full year of data from eight of those companies, allowing the first head-to-head comparisons of the fees paid by those companies. ProPublica “guaranteed” local media sources that its articles and update will “have a local angle of interest to your audience.”

Clearly all ProPublica cares about is getting media sources to expand the reach of their shame campaign, not truthful and objective journalism.

In addition, ProPublica claimed in their email that, “conflicts of interest in medicine have been a major issue for the past several years,” and noted how the Physician Payment Sunshine Act was enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act to address these so called “conflicts.”  The Sunshine Act requires pharmaceutical and medical device companies to post all payments to physicians of $10 or more, with certain exceptions.  They noted that while, “some companies have started doing so before then, either voluntarily or as the result of legal settlements, the payments listed on the companies’ individual sites are not easy to search and analyze.” A reason they use to justify the creation of their database, which they claim is “easy to use.”

The real question is, of what value is “analyzing” such payments?  Will analyzing such payments lead to better patient outcomes? Will drugs, devices or treatments get to patients sooner and through FDA approval faster?  Will clinical trials be conducted more safely and efficiently because payment data is now available?  Or will the publishing of such payments have the opposite effect?  Will posting physicians name chill the willingness of researchers to do research, educate their peers, and consult with companies? Will the added costs of transparency have any benefits to outweigh the administrative and resource burdens?

ProPublica asserts that its database has now “become even more useful for consumers.” But in what way? Is there any research to show that over the past year, since ProPublica published its first data, that patients are safer and healthier? No. ProPublica has not offered one shred of evidence to show that their database has done anything positive to make Americans safer or healthier.

Instead, ProPublica just wants to ostracize physicians who collaborate with industry and make lifesaving treatments and scientific discoveries.  They want people to “see which doctors in your communities have stopped speaking on behalf of drug companies and which have recently joined up.” And for what? Will this mean that patients will stop seeing their doctors, or will they ask their physicians why they take the time out of their busy schedules and family lives to educate other physicians, conduct clinical trials, and do research and consulting?

Ultimately, ProPublica will continue to abuse and slant the portrayal of physician-industry collaboration, throwing sand into the gears of medical and scientific progress, harming patients and leading to Americans and patients suffering.  In the coming weeks, we will be getting comments from local physicians who work and collaborate with industry to offer the counterpoint to ProPublica to highlight the tremendous value physician-industry collaboration brings to patients and America.

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