The sun officially started shining on relationships between medical professionals and medical sales professionals when the Sunshine Act went into effect earlier this year. While the law has received plenty of attention, statistics show that many physicians do not realize its implications. A recent survey of 1,000+ physicians revealed that more than half did not know that medical companies will have to submit annual expense reports to the government.
In an effort to proactively provide education on the impact of the legislation, James Youngblood, CEO, Heart Rhythm Society, says that HRS has hosted webinars with details on how data will be published, how to ensure it’s reported accurately and other essential details. The attendance has been strong, but it’s clear that not all of the society’s members are concerned yet.
“I’m not sure that the general physician population has awakened to understand the impact that this legislation will have on them,” Youngblood says.
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The Dangers of Data Error
The wake-up call is on its way, though. Manufacturers are currently collecting data on all transfers of value and payments made to physicians. At the end of March 2014, physicians will need to verify whether all of that data is correct, and by the end of September, the public will be able to access and view all of the information.
“There is going to be an enormous amount of data collected,” Youngblood says. “With this kind of volume, there is so much room for errors, both small and large.”
The potential for problems means that members of HRS and countless other physicians will add more administrative duties to their lists of responsibilities.
“Our members are obligated to do a lot of work,” Youngblood says. “It’s going to be a burden on their time.”
As more physicians begin to recognize what the Sunshine Act will mean for them, Youngblood expects to see a number of changes in the way they associate with industry representatives.
“There will be a whole different level of consciousness,” Youngblood says. “If you know that someone is going to be watching you and you know that you have to validate the data on the site, would it change your decision to attend an event? Doctors will start to think carefully about their relationships.”
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While data collection is already underway, Youngblood raises a very valid question: how will the technology function when physicians begin verifying its accuracy? If the glitches from the October 1 launch of the state and federal online insurance exchanges are any indication, it seems like medical professionals should prepare themselves for the potential for some serious hiccups.
“There’s still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the entire process,” Youngblood says. “We’re working to be a very effective conduit of information for our members to ensure that they’re ready for it.”
There’s one very important additional question that’s already too late to answer: does the public even care about all of this information?
“I’m a big proponent of transparency,” Youngblood says. “However, this level of detail is outrageous. I have a strong sense that patients aren’t concerned with physician-industry relationships.”
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