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Sirven: New Database Aims To Help Patients Reduce Costs

Dr. Joseph Sirven
Dr. Joseph Sirven
Dr. Joseph Sirven

We would all love to reduce the costs of our doctor’s visits and a new database to be released tomorrow is supposed to help do that, but what does it mean in the long run? Here’s KJZZ commentator Dr. Joseph Sirven.


“Let the sunshine in!! Let the sunshine in!!” Remember that hit song about entering into a new age of light? Well, as of September 30th, the U.S. government will usher in a new era of healthcare enlightenment when they release a database providing even more information about doctors and their relationships to the industry. I’m talking about the Physician Payments Sunshine Act -- part of the Affordable Care Act. This law requires pharmaceutical and medical device companies to report payments of more than $10 to doctors and hospitals to Medicare who will oversee this system.

As a result, all physicians and teaching hospitals will be required to be listed on the program’s website that anyone can search. The stated goal is to reduce costs by making patients informed consumers about possible conflicts of interests between doctors and the industry. Theoretically you'll avoid unnecessary tests or procedures by asking more of your doctor because you are aware of these ties. I applaud the goal. Who wouldn’t?

And let me save you the trouble of looking me up. My listing will reflect that over the course of my academic career, I’ve been involved with a Who’s Who of device and pharmaceutical companies for research trials and education which in turn helped to create new options and the availability of new products for patients with neurological conditions. I’m proud of these partnerships to better help my patients.

Here’s the thing, will this information hurt my doctor-patient relationships? When I suggest a drug or device for treatment, should I list my disclosures just like the end of those TV drug commercials with a low mumbled rapid voice reading legalese like you can die or get TB from taking the medication? If I don’t mention a disclosure, will you wonder if I’m hiding something? My gut tells me those patients that are happy with me won’t care one bit about this website. Yet, those unhappy with my services will easily find something they can point to as bias. Therein lies my biggest beef with this approach. Transparency without context becomes a game of perception and who has the time to set the record straight?

It’s ironic that something called the Sunshine Act will create more clouds than sun. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “The storm starts, when the drops start dropping.” We may need umbrellas.

Dr. Sirven is a KJZZ commentator and the Chairman of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic.

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