How Much Does Industry Pay Physicians? New Study
It’s complicated. But one thing we know for certain, the practice of medicine is a collaborative enterprise. Medicine can not advance without industry. Everytime someone asks the question, which COVID vaccine are you getting, Pfizer, Moderna or JNJ, they are implicitly acknowledging the role that private industry plays in advancing medical science.
It is equally certain, however, that industry’s payments and focus on commercial success has had a biasing effect on both clinical studies and clinicians. A new study brings a bit of light to the subject of industry payments to physicians and found that physician consulting contracts, which make up the vast majority of payments to physicians, were less than $10,000 per year.
Royalty payments for patented and licensed inventions, however, amounted to millions of dollars per year per inventor(0.3% of the physicians received royalties).
A team of researchers from Northwell Health Huntington Hospital in Huntington, New York, decided to calculate how much money orthopedic and sports medicine physicians are receiving using data from the Sunshine Act and the results that research, “The Influence of the Sunshine Act on Industry Payments to United States Orthopedic Sports Medicine Surgeons,” was published in the March 4, 2021 edition of Arthroscopy.
Why, we wondered, would a researcher want to delve into such a complicated and charged issues. Co-author co-author Matthew Partan, M.D., an orthopedic surgery resident PGY-3, Plainview Hospital, Northwell Health, explained, “We have a research team, comprised of current orthopedic residents at our program and a research assistant, that was originally formed after being approached by the senior author Dr. Adam Bitterman.”
“Dating back to an article in MedPage Today in 2015, Dr. Bitterman has had ongoing interest in the importance of industry in advancing training in orthopedic surgery. In an article titled ‘Let's Stop Shunning Industry in Academics,’ he expressed the value in the relationships between industry and physicians, particulary when discussing continuing medical education among surgeons and training residents. Given Dr. Bitterman's intersest in the topic, as well as the paucity of current research in the topic, he helped form the team (compromised of the listed authors) to explore the issue.”
“Collectively, the team has set goals to explore the effects of the Sunshine Act on industry-physician relationships. We feel that the relationship is integral in advancing not only innovations throughout orthopedic surgery, but also educational opprotunities for training surgeons. We felt that an updated account on the trends since the legislation would be paramount, as most literature on the subject was published shortly after the act was enabled.”
Using the currently available data (2014 to 2019), researchers found that there were 1,941,772 payments to 12,816 sports medicine orthopedic surgeons. The top five compensated surgeons received 45.8% of all industry contributions—a median total payment of $9.2 million.
“The median payments to surgeons demonstrated a significant upward trend,” said the authors…The majority of industry contributions in the top five earners were attributed to royalties and licenses (98.7%).”
“Across the study period, 89.4% of the total orthopedic sports medicine surgeons received a yearly total payment less than $10,000 which made up 8.3% of the total industry payment sum. Those receiving a yearly total payment greater than $500,000 accounted for 0.3% of surgeons, but received 53.4% of the sum payments.”
Dr. Partan told OTW, “The most important results of our research show that despite the transparency of the legislature, the relationships between industry and physicians remain strong.”
As for this topic as related to his colleagues in hip, spine, etc., Dr. Partan noted, “In regard to future research, our research team has particular interest in exploring the effects in other orthopedic subspecialities.We are currently working on additional research in trauma, total joint arthroplasty, and general orthopedics. Additionally, we have a current project much similar in format in regards to the effects of the Sunshine Act in orthopedic spine surgery.”
“We hope that our findings can lead to future research among other specialities to better define its effects across the orthopedic community as a whole.”
Additional study authors include Peter B. White, D.O., M.S., Nicholas Frane, D.O., and Cesar R. Iturriaga, D.O. and Adam Bitterman, D.O.