The transparent physician

The veil over healthcare spending in the US is now being lifted with the launch of a new database detailing billions of dollars of transactions between doctors and pharmaceutical companies.

Until now, financial transactions between doctors and the pharmaceutical industry in the US were largely kept secret from the public. But the veil has now been lifted with the launch of a new database by the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The site details billions of dollars of transactions, including grants and speaking fees, between health care providers and pharma companies. For the last five months of 2013, the Fiscal Times reports that 546,000 doctors and 1,360 teaching hospitals received 4.4 million payments from companies for a total of US$3.5 billion.

As the Fiscal Times notes, the database was required under the 2010 Physician Payments Sunshine Act, a provision of the US President’s Health Care Law that was meant to increase health care spending transparency by allowing the public to see what health care providers are receiving from the industry.

“It should empower consumers to learn whether their doctors take payments and if so, why, and whether that matters to them,” Senator Chuck Grassley, author of the provision, said in a statement.

However, like the infamous site, this one has experienced many glitches, causing doctors and companies to worry that some doctors had insufficient time to fact check their data. Companies questioned "whether the website would provide enough context for consumers to understand what the payments represented," the Fiscal Times says.