Pfizer Inc. paid doctors and teaching hospitals a total of $35 million in the last half of 2009 for services ranging from speaking to other doctors about the company's products to running studies of its experimental drugs.
The world's biggest drugmaker by revenue disclosed details Wednesday of its payments to about 4,500 doctors and other health professionals. Unlike rivals who have made some disclosures, Pfizer included figures on the considerable payments made to doctors running human tests of its drugs.
The information, posted on its Web site, was released a little more than a year after Pfizer promised to do so and comes a week after passage of the national health care overhaul. That legislation includes provisions requiring detailed disclosures of even small payments and gifts to physicians by makers of drugs and medical devices, but not until 2013.
Drug and device makers have been anticipating such a law since the Physician Payment Sunshine Act — later rolled into the health overhaul — was introduced late in 2007. Pfizer becomes at least the fourth major company to start making some disclosures early.
"This appeared to be the right next step," Pfizer chief medical officer Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall told The Associated Press. "I think that many health care providers believe it's the right thing to do to share this information."
Patients can search the new database to see whether their doctor has received payments for consulting services, giving speeches or participating in drug testing, as well as free meals or travel reimbursement.
Critics have questioned whether doctors favor drugs made by companies that pay them consulting or other fees.
Data posted by three other drugmakers so far has not been so user-friendly, said Allan Coukell, director of the Pew Prescription Project, a consumer group focused on safety and access to information about prescription drugs. He said other companies also have not disclosed data on payments for working on patient drug tests.
He hopes more companies make disclosures before they are required.
"We've always emphasized that we do need physicians to work with the industry on clinical trials, but that it needs to be transparent," Coukell said.
Pfizer's database shows it paid a total of $15 million to more than 250 researchers and teaching hospitals for their time working on clinical trials of experimental medicines. That does not include costs for the drugs, supplies and other items.
Roughly 1,500 health professionals were paid an average of $5,000 for their time and expertise as consultants giving "real practice and patient insights."
About 2,800 health professionals were paid an average of $3,400 for speaking to their peers, at dinner meetings and the like, about "appropriate use of Pfizer medicines."
The top recipient — not identified by Pfizer — got a total of about $150,000, which covered most of the doctor's work for the company in 2009.
The database also includes the value of meals and educational items, such as anatomical models and office wall charts, provided to doctors. In the last six months of 2009, Pfizer spent a total of $988,000 on meals, at an average of $317 per doctor, and a total of $1.7 million on business-related travel, at an average of $789 per doctor.
The new federal law requires even more disclosures. It was partly shaped by input from drugmakers such as Merck & Co. that supported disclosures but wanted uniform standards for all companies.
Under the law, any payment of $10 or more, and all payments to a single provider totaling $100 or more within a year, must be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services for it to post on a public Web site.
The first round of data, for 2012 payments, must be submitted by March 31, 2013 and is to be posted on the Web site the following September. Drugmakers can be fined up to $150,000 annually for not reporting payments — and up to $1 million a year if they knowingly don't disclose them.
Makers of prescription drugs, medical devices and medical supplies purchased by government health programs such as Medicare each year all will have to report their payments to physicians and hospitals. That will include gifts, meals, travel expenses, consulting and speaking fees, stock or stock options, royalties or licenses, ownership interests, research funding or grants, and any other item of value given to a doctor or teaching hospital.
However, payments for working on clinical trials will not have to be reported until four years after they are made, or after the product is approved — a concession to industry arguments that such information is competitive, Coukell said.
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