Now that some drugmakers are starting to disclose just how much they pay doctors for speaking engagements, a new wrinkle is emerging - some of these docs have rather questionable qualifications. Such as? Some were sanctions for prescribing unjustified or excessive meds; having inappropriate sexual relations with patients and making serious medical errors.
And the disclosures are making some drugmakers uncomfortable. Consequently, at least three pharma companies - Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca and Pfizer - now say they will take steps to monitor docs who are retained as speakers, according to ProPublica, which recently compiled several databases of info based on web site postings by drugmakers, and followed up by searching for docs who have transgressed.
This is no small matter, by the way. ProPublica found 70 docs who were sanctioned multiple times or by more than one state. And 21 of them had three or more blemishes on their records (there are details here, and you can spend hours of fun yourself by simply clicking on each company name and then follow the ensuing links that slice and dice the data).
Here's one example: Kenneth Fisher was disciplined five times between 1996 and 2009. The Arizona Medical Board put him on probation twice, required him to have a chaperone when seeing patients and issued him three letters of reprimand for medical and recordkeeping lapses. In one case, numerous male patients accused Fisher, a Phoenix family practitioner who specializes in HIV, of sexually victimizing or violating them, ProPublica writes, citing state records.
Such revelations are almost certain to accelerate as still more drugmakers begin posting data in order to comply with the Physican Payment Sunshine Act in March 2013. Meanwhile, drugmakers may want to consider doing more background checks, unless they want to run the risk of having their KOLs, or key opinion leaders, become mistaken for KPVs, or key patient violators.
"Let's be honest, they do a lot of very complicated things very well," Josephine Johnston, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, a nonprofit bioethics think tank, tells ProPublica. "These are the people who have figured out how to get prescription data for individual doctors, so they can send drug reps to target particular doctors in particular ways." In other words, background checks are easy to do.