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Dollars for Docs: Doctors receive money from drug companies | News

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Dollars for Docs: Doctors receive money from drug companies

ATLANTA -- If your doctor was receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from the drug companies that make the drugs your doctor may prescribe for you, would you want to know? 11Alive's Center for Investigative Action thought you would.

We discovered in the last three years, more than $19 million has been paid to Georgia medical practitioners, and your doctor could be one of them.

Next year the federal government will require all drug companies to report how much money they give to doctors, dentists, nurses and all other medical care workers, and all that information will be available for you to view online, but we're giving you some of numbers now.

The health care industry is big business and big business means big bucks. We got our hands on the numbers reported by drug companies and obtained by the investigative news website ProPublica.

When we analyzed the numbers for Georgia from 2009 to 2011, we saw some large payments to health care workers.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to some Georgia doctors for speaking engagements, travel and consulting -- is it good medicine?

"Some physicians might feel this creates a conflict of interest," said Dr. Michael Greene with the Medical Association of Georgia.

That may also explain why physicians we name in our report were reluctant to talk about this on camera.

Like Dr. Lewis Kriteman of Roswell who, over the last three years, received some of the highest payments to doctors in Georgia for speaking engagements: $224,125, most of it from a drug company called GSK that makes a drug that he prescribes in his urology practice.

Or psychiatrist Dr. Michael Banov of Marietta who got nearly as much, $223,555 for speaking fees from three different drug makers, most of it from Lilly.

Dr. Jonathan Liss, a neurologist from Columbus, received $207,780, most of it from Pfizer and most of it, more than $200,000, for speaking travel and meals.

Another large payment, an honoraria of $142,050, went to Dr. Donald R. Taylor of Marietta. The money came from a drug company called Cephalonia.

When we called him for an answer, we got a call back from an attorney.

"Well I think some doctors themselves are somewhat torn on this issue," said Dr. Greene with the Medical Association of Georgia. "At the basis of everything we do is what's best for the patient."

The Medical Association of Georgia has no official policy on the matter, which is why we talked to a medical ethics expert at Emory University, because many medical schools like Emory do have ethics policies regarding monetary interactions with drug companies.

"They don't come near the medical students," said Kathy Kinlaw with the Emory Center for Ethics

She also cautions doctors about taking payments from drug companies.

"Physicians need to be very careful who they are associating with and why they participate in these," Kinlaw said. "Physicians have great knowledge. They should be looking at evidence-based medicine and only participating in speaking engagements and conferences where they are able to do that very fully, not working for a particular pharmaceutical company or device manufacturer."

The doctors who did speak to us over the phone and in written statements said that the money they received was for compensation for time away from their patients to educate and inform other physicians about drugs that they have either become familiar with through research or clinical trials.

However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't ask questions. 

"If the patient is not comfortable with what's going on, talk to your doctor," Dr. Greene told us. He wasn't uncomfortable talking about money he has personally received from drug companies over the years.

How much, we asked?

"Oh goodness, probably over a seven or eight year period, I guess around a total of $5,000," he said. 

To see Dr. Donald Taylor's written response, click here.

To see Dr. Lewis Kriteman's written response, click here.

Dr. Banov and Dr. Liss did not respond to requests for comment.

To see the comments from the industry group that represents drug companies, PhRMA, click here.

Note: The data may not be a complete picture, since it was compiled from 12 drug companies representing 40 percent of the U.S. market. It was voluntarily supplied to the ProPublica website, which then had to find a format to combine the information. Next year the Federal Government's new Sunshine Law as part of the Health Care Act is supposed to be in place to have standard reporting requirements and have data readily available for you to view online.