Towards Patient-Centered Conflicts of Interest Policy

Document Type: Short Communication

Authors

1 Berman Institute of Bioethics, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA

2 Biostatistics and Epidemiology, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA

3 Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA

4 Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Abstract

Financial conflicts of interest exist between industry and physicians, and these relationships have the power to influence physicians’ medical practice. Transparency about conflicts matters for ensuring adequate informed consent, controlling healthcare expenditure, and encouraging physicians’ reflection on professionalism. The US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) launched the Open Payments Program (OPP) to publicly disclose and bring transparency to the relationships between industry and physicians in the United States. We set out to explore user awareness of the database and the ease of accessibility to disclosed information, however, as we show, both awareness and actual use are very low. Two practical policies can greatly enhance its intended function and help alleviate ethical tension. The first is to provide data for individual physicians not merely in absolute terms, but in meaningful context, that is, in relation to the zip code, city, and state averages. The second increases access to the OPP dataset by adding hyperlinks from physicians’ professional websites directly to their Open Payments disclosure pages. These changes considerably improve transparency and the utility of available data, and can furthermore enhance professionalism and accountability by encouraging physicians to reflect more actively on their own practices.

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