Pharma industry payments to Australian cardiologists revealed

The extent of payments received by Australian cardiologists from the pharmaceutical industry has been revealed in a new study showing that some are accepting tens of thousands of dollars a year for advisory and speaker roles.

Researchers analysed payments from the pharmaceutical industry to doctors in different specialities between November 2018 and April 2019, based on data provided to the Disclosure Australia website, as required under the Medicines Australia Code of Conduct.

Over a six month period pharmaceutical companies paid a total of $7.3 million to 2775 specialist medical practitioners.

The study in the Internal Medicine Journal estimated that 15% of Australian cardiologists received payments in the six-month period, compared to around 30% of oncologists and haematologists and 11% of other internal medicine specialist physicians.

In total, cardiologists received $722,663 in payments, a lower total figure than other specialist groups such as oncologists ($1.03 million) and endocrinologists ($758,648), but more than haematologists ($720,000) and respiratory physicians ($518,000).

In all, 219 of 1481 cardiologists received payments, with a mean payment of $3300 per doctor. The total payments received by individual cardiologists ranged from $196 to $31,283, most commonly for travel costs and service fees such as consulting and advisory panel payments.

Lead author Dr Adrian Pokorny, a medical oncologist at Royal Darwin Hospital, said the study highlighted the extent of pharmaceutical company influence, rather than criticising the behaviour of doctors who received payments.

“It is in the interest of patients to have access to major clinical trials, and these are frequently designed and sponsored by drug companies. Novel medications are often accessed by patients directly from drug companies ahead of federal funding, with cancer physicians acting as the prescribing intermediary,” the study authors said.

Dr Pokorny said some interactions between physicians and the pharmaceutical industry were “unavoidable”, but cautioned that “any interaction creates a conflict of interest”.

He said other studies had shown that doctor in the US were more likely to prescribe some drugs over their competitors if they have received payments from the drug’s manufacturer, despite no clear evidence of direct clinical superiority.

Dr Pokorny said his personal policy was never to meet pharmaceutical company representatives, so he had not been offered any payments.

The COVID-19 era of telemedicine and online conferences had offered an alternative way for doctors to be involved in international conferences without any need for travel, he suggested.


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