In the old days of traditional fee-for-service medicine, your doctor clearly worked for you, the patient. If you needed to go into the hospital, your “major medical” insurance plan would cover the inpatient costs, so that you would not go bankrupt due to a medical condition. Otherwise, you paid your doctor, and your doctor worked for you.

Today, big pharma pays doctors big money for their influence over patient care. The AMA put ethics laws into effect about 15 years ago, but big pharma has found a number of ways to hide its payoffs to doctors. At least now you can track the payoffs.

On a little-known government website, you simply search the name of your doctor. The website provides a list of payments your doctor has received from big pharma. You’ll also learn the nature of the payment.

For example, it tells you whether the payment was for consulting fees, “research” fees, travel and lodging, entertainment, or even actual academic grants.

You can also search by pharmaceutical company to see how much they have dished out to doctors.

For example, you can see that Purdue Pharma (maker of OxyContin, at the top of our national epidemic of pain drug abuse) has spent $10,977,788 paying doctors. Of course, the money wasn’t spread around evenly. Pain specialists probably received the lion’s share of the payout.

I also found it interesting that nearly two-thirds of the Purdue Pharma payout was for “compensation other than consulting, including services as faculty or as a speaker at a venue other than a continuing education program.” In other words, the doctors didn’t really have to do anything to receive these lavish payments. They were just out-and-out hand-outs.

On the other hand, if the doctors really do have to do something in exchange for these lavish payments, that alternative scenario is even more troubling. It means that big pharma is “buying off” doctors for prescribing and getting their patients to buy large amounts of a certain drug. Some experts suggest this unethical practice DOES happen and it contributes to the deadly epidemic of pain drugs.

Some countries ban payments to doctors from pharma outright and the U.S. should go in that direction. Research shows that even paying for a doctor’s lunch can influence which drugs they prescribe to patients. Talk about a “cheap date!”

Check out the website at https://openpaymentsdata.cms.gov and find out who your doctor really works for.