There's a hoary bit of advice in journalism that still gets passed from old-school editors to newbies: "If your mother says she loves you, check it out."
So what about your doctor? The nonprofit investigative journalism outfit ProPublica has a tool you can use to see how much money your doctor has received from drug companies. ProPublica is kind enough to share it for all to use, so I've embedded it in this post. Have at it.
ProPublica has just poured fresh figures into its Dollars for Docs database behind the tool, so you can get a better snapshot than ever before of how much money your doctor has taken drugmakers that publicly disclose the payments. A dozen companies do that now.
Starting next year, every company will have to keep track of payments and gifts to doctors worth more than $10 and report them to the federal government, thanks to a provision in the sweeping health overhaul law enacted last year. In early 2013, the information will be made publicly available on the Web.
In the meantime, ProPublica reports that eight drugmakers paid doctors more than $220 million to give promotional talks about various medicines last year. All told, a dozen companies have paid more than $760 million to doctors and other health professionals for speaking, consulting and other services between 2009 and the second quarter of 2011, according to ProPublica's analysis.
In an editorial, ProPublica reporters Tracy Weber and Charles Ornstein write:
As it stands, doctors don't have to tell you if they're working with the makers of the products they're prescribing you. They don't have to tell you whether they own stock in those companies or do research on their behalf.
Financial interests have the potential to influence what your doctor decides to do or prescribe for you. While the database ProPublica put together won't answer every question you might have, it's a fine place to start.