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Dollars for Docs: What Sales Reps Need to Know

Sunshine Act continues to Impact Pharma Sales Reps
whitestorm; BigStock

The Sunshine Act has been impacting medical sales professionals since the adoption of the Affordable Care Act. But the relationships between doctors and pharmaceutical and medical device companies is in the spotlight once again.

ProPublica recently launched their Dollars for Docs database, and the information caused hype online as sources like the Wall Street Journal and the National Public Radio covered the topic. Although ProPublica has been scrutinizing payments doctors receive from pharmaceutical and medical device companies for years, the new tool is bound to get the medical sales community buzzing once more.

To continue to be successful in the industry, read up on Dollars for Docs and what it means for the industry:

Why all the hype?

ProPublica has been gathering and publishing data on payments pharmaceutical and medical device companies give to physicians since 2010, so what’s all the recent hype about?

The new Dollars for Docs database takes the information one step further. In the past, the data only looked at groups of companies and a portion of the payments they received. But now, as mandated by the Sunshine Act, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have released records for every payment from every pharmaceutical and medical device company from August 2013 until the end of 2014.

ProPublica took these payment reports and created a database that breaks down the data to show which companies pay the most, which doctors interact most with companies and receive the most money. The tool includes 15 categories of payments including promotional speaking, consulting, meals, travel, and royalties, but excludes research payments.

This data highlights the amount of interaction doctors have with medical sales reps and pharmaceutical and medical device companies. And while most patients will still trust their doctors to prescribe the most appropriate medications, others may start to doubt their physician’s decisions based on this information.

What does the data show?

For patients unfamiliar with medical sales and how medical companies interact with physicians, the raw numbers are startling.

The data shows that from August 2013 until the end of 2014, doctors in the U.S. received $3.53 billion in disclosed payments. Orthopedic surgeons tended to get the largest payments from medical device companies partly because many receive royalty payments on devices they helped to develop.

Looking at the data more closely, physicians are receiving meals from pharmaceutical and medical device companies most often. However, companies typically pay more money for speaking and consulting engagements.

Beyond the hype

There’s more to the Dollars for Docs story than big pharma and medical device companies influencing physicians with money and gifts. The relationships between physicians and medical companies are more complex than the numbers might indicate..

Meetings between doctors and medical sales reps – often held over lunch – are how doctors stay informed about the latest products and medications. And doctors who consult with medical device companies play a critical role in the development of new products. It’s true, these doctors are compensated well for their time, but they provide invaluable feedback. So, while this list of payments received by doctors may be alarming, it’s not always as sinister as it may seem.

The future of medical sales

Medical sales reps know that the Sunshine Act has made the medical sales process more challenging. Doctors fear the reputation their relationships with pharmaceutical and medical device companies will give them, and may be distancing themselves from these companies. Many are reluctant or refuse to meet with medical sales reps.

The changing relationship between doctors and medical sales reps means medical sales will also need to change to remain effective. Medical sales will shift away from in-person meetings and move toward digital outreach. Medical sales reps will need to focus less on building relationships with physicians in the field, and more on providing helpful, educational information on new products and research.

What do you think? What impact will Dollars for Docs have on relationships between doctors, medical sales reps, and patients?