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The Physician Payment Sunshine Act: Holding Professionals Accountable

May 16, 2014

The Physician Payment Sunshine Act passed by Congress in 2010 requires pharmaceutical, medical device, biological, and medical supply manufacturers to report to Health and Human Services any “payment or other transfer of value” to physicians and teaching hospitals. Recently, Newsday published a report on two Long Island physicians who, despite serving as hospital formulary committee co-chairs for years, accepted about $125,000 from drugmakers between 2009-2013. The physicians defended their acceptance. One physician stated “he only suggested drugs needed by patients to the formulary” while the other physician said [deserves] “to be paid because his presence at drugmakers’ promotional events help boost their credibility.” In addition, the report also discusses a lawsuit, filed by Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office accused Novartis of paying illegal kickbacks across the country. Prosecutors contend that the speeches provided an excuse for Novartis to pay doctors to keep prescribing drugs in high volume.1

With experience over the years as a promotional speaker, advisor, and consultant to the pharmaceutical industry, I am very pleased the Physician Payment Sunshine Act was enacted by Congress. The example listed above is one of many more to follow due to healthcare providers stepping over the line with ethically questionable behavior. As a representative of the pharmaceutical industry acting as a consultant or speaker, my main focus is to maintain the highest levels of professionalism and ethics. There were times in the past I when I could have made ethically questionable decisions, but I didn’t.

As healthcare professionals, we know this “pay to play” relationship between physicians and pharmaceutical industry has been going on for decades. Now the Physician Sunshine Act will begin holding all professionals accountable for their financial relationships with pharmaceutical industry.  

Are healthcare providers on your hospital pharmacy and therapeutics (P&T) committee allowed to vote on drug approval if a financial agreement with the drug’s manufacturer exists? Do you believe these individuals can be non-biased in voting? Do any hospital P&T committees excuse members from voting on drug approval? Is there a code of conduct or other mechanism in place in your institution to prevent unethical behavior with industry related relationships? I welcome your comments on this issue.    


Michael J. Cawley, PharmD, RRT, CPFT, FCCM, is a Professor of Clinical Pharmacy at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, University of the Sciences. He has greater than 25 years of experience practicing in the areas of medical, surgical, trauma, and burn intensive care as both a critical care clinical pharmacist and registered respiratory therapist.



1. Kerr K. LI docs who recommend meds to hospitals got paid by drug companies. Newsday. 2014 May 10. 

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