Local doctors receive money from drug companies

8:38 AM, Sep 8, 2011   |    comments
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Note: ProPublica gathered reports on over half a million payments to doctors and the data may contain errors and ommissions

TAMPA BAY, Florida - Your doctors can't receive promotional products like pens, notepads, or mugs from drug companies because of a perceived conflict of interest.  But accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars for speaking engagements is a widely-accepted practice.

10 News teamed up with ProPublica.org to analyze the financial ties between the medical community and the drug and device industry.  (Look up your doctor below!)

Hundreds of Tampa Bay-area doctors receive millions of dollars each year from pharmaceuticals in exchange for consulting, research, and speaking engagements.

"Drug companies are using them as marketing, of course they are," said Dr. Jay Wolfson, the Associate Vice President for Health Law, Policy and Safety at the University of South Florida.  "The concern we have is the conflict of interest - or the perceived conflict of interest."

Wolfson has worked on crafting new guidelines at USF's College of Medicine to help eliminate any ethical gray area for the school's doctors.  New guidelines for the doctor-pharmaceutical relationship are expected to be adopted this fall

Doctors at USF are still permitted to speak, consult, and research for drug companies, but they must fill out disclosure forms that are easily-searched by anyone online.

"If it's good science, the patient should benefit," Wolfson said.  "It's very important for physicians in our community, who are respected by others, to share useful information with their colleagues.

"(But) we want to make sure...that we're doing things transparently, clearly, and with professional integrity.  It's the professional integrity that's important because that engenders trust."

One of USF's leading neurological and pain specialists, Dr. Maria-Carmen B. Wilson, M.D., fills out dozens of disclosures a year for her speaking engagements.  Wilson wasn't available to speak about her six-figure annual compensations from pharmacueticals, but a university spokesman applauded her contributions to medicine.

"Because she understands the potential for conflict of interest," said USF Health Assoc. V.P. of Communications Michael Hoad, "Dr. Wilson donated one year's earning to the TGH Foundation, and the next year's to the USF Foundation." 

10 News found that doctors outside university networks, however, have little motivation to disclose their relationships with drug companies.

We reached out to half a dozen doctors who have all received several hundred thousand dollars from drug companies in recent years, but none accepted the offer to speak about the story.

ProPublica.org compiled public disclosures from a dozen major drug companies into the following database.  However, the results aren't inclusive; more than 70 other drug companies do not disclose their compensation.

Connect with 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky or Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky.  Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.

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