5 February 2018

How to find out who takes money from pharma

General Practice Pharmaceuticals

A team at The University of Sydney has pieced together data on payments from pharmaceutical companies to individual doctors, making this information easily accessible for the first time.

The database can be downloaded as an Excel file and searched by name to expose which medical practitioners are accepting cash from pharma.

“This is new and will certainly make a big difference if a GP wanted to refer their patients to somebody who is not being financed by a pharmaceutical company,” Dr Barbara Mintzes, a research scientist in the area of pharmaceutical policy who worked on the project, told The Medical Republic.

The data was previously publicly available, but it was scattered across more than 30 different pharmaceutical company websites.

“Before you would have had to go to all their websites and look through all the files, which virtually no one would have ever done,” Dr Justin Coleman, a Queensland GP who was part of the Medicines Australia Transparency Working Group, said.

Now, a GP who was curious about a colleague’s possible conflicts of interests could quickly look up if they were accepting funding from industry, and determine which companies were funding them, he said.

A doctor might be listed more than once in the spreadsheet, Dr Mintzes said, so GPs would need to search for every entry under a particular name and add up the totals manually to see the full picture.

The data could also be easily manipulated to show which practitioners received the largest amount of funding from a single company.

Doctors with financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry have been required to be named since November 2016. For the first six months of reporting doctors could choose to remain anonymous.

The collation project by The University of Sydney invalidates claims by Medicines Australia that creating a centralised database for pharmaceutical payments is technically complex.

“It’s just downloading the different spreadsheets and amalgamating them into one big spreadsheet,” Dr Coleman said. The entire task was undertaken by a single, anonymous volunteer in their spare time.

In 2015, the ACCC mandated that Medicines Australia take reasonable steps to make the information available in a single location online.

Medicines Australia has been working on a centralised reporting system for two years. In its latest report, published in November last year, it said: “The key challenge was the complexity of developing a system that matched healthcare professionals across multiple companies and various data points.”

Dr Coleman criticised the industry group for dragging its feet on the issue.

“In an ideal world, [this data] would be published in a report on the Medicines Australia website, but obviously there is nothing in it for them because they don’t particularly like all this information coming to light,” he said.