East Texas docs paid by drug companies

Specialist  Dr. Lance Sloan refers to himself in a group of, " thought leaders." Exactly the kind of physician speaker pharmaceuticals go after.

"I give talks and I consult for them about new products, existing products and I also do studies," said Sloan, a endocrinology and nephrology expert.

Registered nurse Lucy Richardson is a diabetes educator. She too works for a drug company. Both health professionals are well aware pharmaceuticals are under scrutiny.

"Well, it's on everybody's mind because people being caught red handed doing improper things," said Richardson.

To deter increased federal regulations some drug companies are giving the appearance of policing themselves by disclosing the health professionals they hire. The names end up on public websites, including one maintained by Propublica, a non profit investigative news agency. www.propublica.org   Physicians, professors, hospital staff are listed. The larger the city, the longer the list.

"You know if you want to put it up on a billboard for me, that's fine. I'm all for free advertising," said Sloan.

What Sloan and others do have a problem with is "putting down how much money I'm getting paid because it doesn't provide enough information over all that I'm doing to make that money," commented Sloan.

According to collected data drug companies paid U.S. Health professionals more than $760 million.

"There have been some improper practices in the past. Now they're trying to keep that from happening any more," said Richardson.

Sloan says all the disclosures of doc/drug company relationships have done nothing to prevent wrongdoing.

"In order to have a kickback you really have to have two things. One, you have to give something, but the other thing you have to measure an outcome," said Sloan.

Sloan's solution is to prevent pharmaceuticals from knowing what doctors are prescribing in the first place.

"Right now the pharmaceutical companies can buy information on doctors. They know exactly what we prescribe," explained Sloan. "I think that's horrible."

Stop that and the rest will fall into place believes Sloan.

"The drug rep is not going to come in and hassle them about why you haven't written for my product," said Sloan. Or worse, provide enticing incentives that give the appearance of a under the table deal.

Sloan has taken his proposal all the way to Washington D.C. He's met with Senator Charles Grasley, an Iowan republican asking for more transparancy in health care.

More doctors are pulling off the speaking circuit to avoid the appearance of conflict. The impact has led to a drop in speaking fees, less sponsorship of medical programs by pharmaceuticals, and the elimination of freebies, like ball point pens with the drug or company name on it.

Sloan and Richardson don't want a severed relationship with drug companies, just an improved one.

"It's important for the pharmaceutical companies to be held accountable, just like we all are," said Richardson.

"I enjoy educating physicians how to safely and effectively use a drug and hopefully take better care of patients," said Sloan.

And patients are the ones who ultimately must determine themselves the integrity of their doctor.

We would like to hear what you think. Go to www.ktre.com  and answer our KTRE web poll.      Do you think drug company's relationship with doctors should be regulated and disclosed?

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