Oncologists derive much of their income from industry payments

Many oncologists rely on industry payments as a significant part of their income, US figures show.

One in ten oncologists with positions at public medical schools received payments from industry that were more than 20% of their annual salary, an analysis by Dr Vinay Prasad and colleagues at Oregon Health & Science University found.

And a small number of oncologists (4%) were getting around half their income in pharma industry payments, their study in JAMA Internal Medicine showed.

The findings were based on salary databases for 630 oncology faculty members in 14 universities, of whom 66% (417) were shown to have received industry payments under the Sunshine transparency act.

The mean salary for a faculty member was US240,209 and the mean payment received from pharma companies was US$15,479.

For directors of departments the mean salary was US$ 436 069 and the mean payment from industry was US$52,430.

While most oncologists received only modest payments from industry, almost 20% received payments that were more than 10% of their annual salary, 11% received payments of more than 20% of their salary and 4% received payments of more than 50% of their salary.

Industry payments made a higher proportion of salaries for oncologists at prestigious universities. While the overall rate was less than 1%, the highest median general payment-to-salary ratios were University of California (UC) San Diego (16.0%), UC Davis (8.5%), and UC Irvine (4.6%).

While six of the 14 medical schools had notional caps on the amount of salary their members could receive as payments  from industry, the researchers found that at least one oncologist in each did not fully disclose payments and violated university limits on payments from industry .

“Our findings established that many oncologists at US public medical schools receive substantial payments from industry, which are often sizeable in comparison with their annual salaries,” the authors concluded..

“Medical schools should enforce their own policies with regard to payment limits.”

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