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Posted on Wednesday 29 December 2010

Health Watch: Doctors and Drug Companies
FOX 5 Atlanta

29 Dec 2010

Nearly 20 percent of American doctors get paid by drug companies to be consultants or speakers. And in some cases, they’re making quite a lot of money. So does that influence the decisions your doctor makes about your care?

"Here you will find our Lilly faculty – the educators, advisors and speakers with whom we have contracted. Among the things they do is speak to their peers about our medicines," said the Eli Lilly CEO on their website. On the drug companies’ payrolls, nearly 200 Georgia doctors, pulling in over $2.2 million last year. Some of Georgia’s highest paid physicians? Emory Urologist Dr. Muta Issa: $ 91,000 from Glaxo Smith Kline; Atlanta endocrinologist Dr. David Robertson: over $78,000 from Eli Lilly; and Roswell psychiatrist Dr. Michael Banov: over $68,000, also from Lilly. And some healthcare providers are earning much more, working for several companies at the same time. When asked if the money paid is that common Dr. Doug Bremner said, "Yes, it’s common, that people who are very active can make several hundred thousand dollars or more."

"We don’t sell medications. We simply educate physicians about data, and they make their own mind up," said Dr. Michael Banov. Roswell’s Dr. Michael Banov – a private practice Psychiatrist paid over $68,000 by Lilly – says he gives speeches for about five companies with competing medications. "I think my patients welcome the fact they have a doctor who is meeting other doctors, actively involved in research, actively communicating with other physicians. Someone who’s on top of the game," said Banov. And Banov says, the drug company – not him – creates the materials used in his speeches, and he says there’s a reason for that. "We are only able to present the data. We’re not able to present our personal opinions. Our personal preferences, how we use the medication off label. any of that. So we’re held to a very tight standard by the FDA," said Banov.

But Emory psychiatrist Doug Bremner thinks paying doctors to speak for drug makers is a bad idea. He used to do it, until he says he got a wakeup call about six years ago. "I was going out to give a talk and the sales, the marketing guy like slapped me on the back and said, "Go on out there and sell some, I’m not going to say the name of the drug. Sell some of that drug," said Dr. Doug Bremner. When asked what he thought, Bremner replied, "This is crazy!"

Bremner worries even the most independent doctor can get hooked on all that extra cash coming in. "Doctors are human, and once you get into this routine of making outside income, you become dependent on it," said Bremner. When asked if he knew the money he was receiving from the drug companies was not subtley influencing the choices of prescriptions and how you treat a patient, Banov replied, "Because when I close that door, and I’m with a patient, my 100% interest is in getting that patient better."

Private providers like Banov don’t see a conflict of interest, but medical schools increasingly do. Last fall, Emory University School of Medicine banned staffers from making promotional talks for drug companies. After congressional investigators accused the school’s Chief of Psychiatry Dr. Charles Nemeroff of failing to report to the university over a million dollars he got from pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers. Dr. Nemeroff resigned his chairmanship, and has since left the school.

Another Emory staffer, Urologist Dr. Muta Issa – listed as earning $91,000 in the first three months of 2009 from Glaxo Smith Kline – declined to comment on our story. But a school spokeswoman says he left speakers bureau when Emory changed its policies. Atlanta diabetes specialist Dr. David Robertson – who earned $78,000 giving 47 promotional talks for Lilly, says he only speaks about medications he actually prescribes. "I think a presentation a physician makes should represent their own practice," said Dr. David Robertson. Though Robertson admits some physicians spend too much time promoting too many products. "That’s bad for everyone: that’s bad for the pharmaceutical companies, that’s bad for physicians as a profession, and that’s bad probably for physicians as recipients of information because they become mistrustful," said Robertson.

So are public lists like this a good thing? Doctors on both sides say yes. "I think it’s gotten to the point where the public is looking at it for what it is and they’re saying, "What’s going on here?" said Bremner. "Why not let the public know? there is nothing to hide." There is no shame. We’re not doing anything illegal," said Banov. "I think it’s terrific. [It] Should be completely open."
Dr. Banov’s position in this interview is obviously indefensible, so I’ll defer on even refuting it. I’m pleased to see such an article from an Atlanta News Service. Maybe the magnitude of the Pharmaceutical Industry’s mega-scam is finally being seen publicly. You can go to ProPublica‘s search engine to search for a doctor’s PHARMA connections. Here’s what comes up for Dr. Banov:
Name Company Amount Quarters

BANOV, MICHAEL D. Eli Lilly $51,765 2010 Q1-Q2
BANOV, MICHAEL D. Eli Lilly $72,600 2009 Q1-Q4
BANOV, MICHAEL D. AstraZeneca $65,800 2010 Q1-Q2

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