Stanford U Investigates A Dozen Docs For Taking Pharma Payola

Twelve doctors at Stanford University Medical School are under investigation by the school’s disciplinary board after their names cropped up in a database of docs getting paid big bucks by pharmaceutical companies for speaking gigs, a violation of school policy.

One of the doctors facing sanction was paid $53,000 by Eli Lilly & Co just for speaking at one “Healthcare Professional Education Program” engagement. Another Eli Lilly & Co boy got $109,000 to talk about ADHD drug Strattera.

Their names came out after a ProPublica investigative project put together a trove of 17,000 doctors pharmaceutical companies were paying to deliver speeches to other doctors about their drugs.

The practice is cause for concern because it can create a conflict-of-interest when the doctors recommend drugs to their own patients. It also effectively rents out a doctor’s prestige to talk up certain drugs to their peers.

During these talks the doctors usually read from a script prepared by the drug company and show a series of slides created by the company.

Stanford says they rely on an honor system of voluntary compliance with school policies. They began investigating and asking questions after finding their faculty members’ names in the ProPublica database.

“Some individuals…had understandable reasons for confusion. Others, though, offered explanations why their activities continued that are difficult if not impossible to reconcile with our policy, and here we have concerns,” said the dean of Stanford’s Medical School.

“This is unacceptable, certainly for anyone with a Stanford title.”

To check to see if a doctor is in the ProPublica database, go here.

Dozen Stanford physicians under fire for speaking at gigs paid for by drugmakers [Mercury News] (Thanks to Michael!)

Drug Co’s Pledge To Choose More Closely Docs They Pay
17,000 Docs, Some Who Had Sex With Patients, Scarf Big Pharma Payola


Edit Your Comment

  1. jessjj347 says:

    There were speculations about the character of many of the physicians in the database, as many of them had infractions on their licenses..but this brings about a whole new light since these physicians are highly respected.

  2. dragonfire81 says:

    Hasn’t this been going on for years? I thought all kinds of doctors were working more for the pharma companies than for their patients.

    • lastingsmilledge says:

      it had been happening for years, until PhRMA (a drug industry trade group) released new guidelines in 2008 which banned a lot of the frivilous gifts that docs got from pharma reps…. no more viagra pens, no more wine and dines (if they don’t have ‘educational value), etc. reps can, however, still bring meals to a doctor’s office.

      the more interesting reform will come into effect in 2012 – part of the healthcare bill includes the PPSA (physician payments sunshine act), which will put essentially ALL ‘transfers of value’ between drug companies and doctors on an easily searchable HHS website. i think doctors as a whole will reconsider endangering their professional reputation for these perks.

  3. Bsamm09 says:

    If this is true they should be fired and possibly stripped of their medical license. Fine the pharm companies that did this too.

    • OnePumpChump says:

      Under what law? Government doesn’t get to fine anyone who isn’t doing anything illegal. The university would probably be violating labor law and/or employment contracts if they did it.

      And the university probably isn’t going to fire anyone unless they’re breaking the law, anyway.

      • VouxCroux says:

        You are right on. Under what law can these companies be fined? Under what provision can these doctors have their licenses stripped? I’ll agree that it doesn’t look good, but there is a lot of unknowns. Can’t a doctor say they believe that a study showing one drug more effective was a flawed study? Unless they were pushing a drug BECAUSE of the money, then I don’t really see the ethics violation.

  4. ldub says:

    Good on ProPublica for committing actual, you know, journalism. And Stanford? Are they serious with the “we thought voluntary compliance would suffice”? When there’s tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars being offered, oversight is required. Harvard Medical has finally figured this out, let’s hope Stanford follows suit.

    And stories like this will help the general public develop a healthy skepticism about the information they are give re: the efficacy of pharmaceuticals. People have to stop accepting what they are told without considering the source and understanding the larger system that is giving them the information/recommendation when it comes to medications and medical procedures.

    • Bsamm09 says:

      I’m glad I have friends who are pharmacists. They give me great advice about what drugs to take and which ones to avoid.

  5. NickelMD says:

    So if I get paid by GLBT organizations to give a talk about LGBT healthcare, that’s OK. Buuuut if I do the same thing for a company to talk about their product, its not OK?

    I am not saying that they are equivalent. Nor am I saying that in at least two of the twelve cases the fees were crazy exorbitant (if we are talking about one talk). But they also cite cases where two physicians made $5900 and $4700 as consultants in a year with two companies. Given that physician consulting time is at a minimum $100/hour (and I have made as much as $400/hour doing consultation for a med-mal attorney who was defending a ‘good guy’ physician from Neanderthals who thought appropriate GLBT healthcare was equivalent to conversion therapy) that’s not actually that much work.

    And seriously, if I help a drug company for 4 hours/month over a year so they can use my expertise to develop another therapy, I am supposed to do that for free? I’ll happily see patients for free, but someone with big pockets who wants my time will be paying me hourly.

    So yes, a 6 figure speakers fee is essentially being Pharma’s paid monkey. But $4-6k doing hourly consulting work for a company is not in the same zip code.

    • Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

      I hope the resident Consumerist homophobes don’t take you to task without actually reading your post.

    • Gulliver says:

      If you CHOOSE to be that kind of consultant you better check it with your employer. A speech on GLBT issues is NOT the same as promoting a drug and presenting a slide show made by the drug company. If a doctor wants to discuss high blood pressure, and things to help control it, that is ok, but once it is paid for by somebody with a conflict of interest it becomes a problem. I guess as an “expert” you feel your testimony can be bought or sold. Good to know what kind of doctor you are. You aren’t a consultant., you are a paid hack

      • NickelMD says:

        “I guess as an ‘expert’ you feel your testimony can be bought or sold. Good to know what kind of doctor you are. You aren’t a consultant., you are a paid hack”

        So if I get ten requests from attorneys to consult on a case, and I review them all, and tell one attorney that I feel comfortable helping them with that case, then I am a paid hack because I take money for it? Are you insane, or just angry?

        • Bsamm09 says:

          Differing opinions about treatments, causes, effects, etc. abound in the medical field. The only reason an expert witness would look like a paid hack is if their testimony about certain conditions/diseases etc changed from time to time too suit their “employers” needs.

      • SolidSquid says:

        The assumption here is that he gears the talk to big up his sponsor’s drug. What if he gave the same talk about heart medication, but talked honestly about the full range of medication available and the pros and cons? You might not get many invites back again, but would that still be selling out?

  6. Gulliver says:

    I am sure since money equals free speech according to the right wing nut jobs on the SCOTUS the doctors will say Stanford is trying to deny their first amendment rights. As will pharma. You can thank Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Kennedy for this stupidity.

  7. smartmuffin says:

    Six figures to give one speech where even if you DO get caught, the worst they can do is fire you (they probably won’t)? Sign me up!

  8. u1itn0w2day says:

    This is more prevailing than these studies are showing.I know an elderly patient who was given a sample and told by the doctor which company he should use for his monthly supply. Not what but WHO he should use. Even with insurance paying 480$ of 600$ that’s still alot for a senior citizen.

    To top it off he really didn’t need it. But the company already sent out a supply right after he saw the doctor.The hassles to get the stuff sent back and not charged to his insurance was brutal. He called the doctor and they came up with some lame excuse you were supposed to be part of an experimental program but will cancel the order for you. But he still had to pay return postage to the sender to avoid a 120$/600$ bill. This was an older doctor so he was probably schooled/mentored the old school/back room deal way.

  9. Extractor says:

    This is just not fair. Us dentists have never been offered Payola. Just toothpaste samples.

  10. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    a clarification that is important – the script provided for the doctors to speak from is standard practice for any speaker for a pharmaceutical company. the script has to be approved by the company to make sure the speaker isn’t touting any claims that the drug isn’t approved for, that it doesn’t mention any off-label use.
    this isn’t to say that all companies actually stick to that, but that’s the main legal and FDA regulated point of having the speaker use a script.

    • dreamcatcher2 says:

      I don’t think it’s the strict legality of the claims themselves that is troubling, it is that prestigious doctors are lending their name to a presentation that they did not write, that includes none of their ideas, and that they did not evaluate. This reduces trust in the medical industry in general and these medical systems in particular.

  11. u1itn0w2day says:

    Speech to other doctors or the justification/sales pitch given to the patient for using a particular product.

  12. VouxCroux says:

    I’ll agree that it doesn’t look good, but there are a lot of unknowns. Can’t a doctor say they believe that a study showing one drug more effective was a flawed study? Unless they were pushing a drug BECAUSE of the money, then I don’t really see the ethics violation.
    But if it is against university policy to take money from pharm companies than it’s against the rules and they should be sanctioned by the university.