As noted yesterday, the Physician Payment Sunshine Act is now law, but so far, the deadline for Health and Human Services to provide guidance to medical product manufacturers on what exactly to report and how exactly to report it has come and gone. Collecting the information is supposed to start in January 2012 and reporting to HHS by March 2013 and publication by HHS in searchable form on the internet by September 2013. So far though, no word on what to report and what to collect and how to transmit it.
Many companies have begun reporting on their own web sites detailed information about their financial relationships with physicians prior to the law going into effect. The context and explanation for the presentation of the information varies.
How will the information be received? Some will see that there is a symbiotic relationship between physicians and medical product manufacturers in performing research and providing education. Others will question the necessity of a financial relationship between these stakeholders and suspect that it undermines independent judgement.
Some doctors receive a lot of payments – others just one or a few in the way of a speaking fee or consultation fee. Many patients will look up their doc to see if he or she has gotten money and then look at their prescriptions. Will they be trying to assess whether or not their doc got money from any of the companies that make the drugs the patient has been prescribed? Will they think their doctor’s judgment was affected?
Certainly information does not exist in a vacuum – different people will characterize it in different ways. Once in the public domain, the information will be open to scrutiny and question.
That fact makes the requirement of the new law more than a matter of compliance and more than a matter of accuracy in reporting. It is a matter of communications as well.
That is why the law states that stakeholders – and there are many including physicians, manufacturers, medical societies, institutions providing health care and patients as well – should have the opportunity to provide input to ensure that appropriate context accompanies the information because the context for all the stakeholders needs to be clearly defined, presented and communicated.