Trends in industry payments to medical oncologists have changed since the inception of the Open Payments program, according to the results of a retrospective, population-based cohort study.1 Specifically, the number of medical oncologists accepting industry payments overall has decreased, but high-value payments have been consolidated in a relatively small number of medical oncologists accepting higher payment values over time. These findings were reported in JAMA Oncology.
“The nature of payments has shifted toward consulting,” the researchers wrote. “These findings point to the limits of transparency and the need for additional measures to ensure integrity and public trust in oncological research and practice.”
The Open Payments program, which has published data on industry-physician financial interactions since 2013, was created in part to discourage “transactions identified by the medical community as inappropriate,” according to the study authors.
The investigators assessed Open Payments reports of industry payments made from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2019 to a group of licensed medical oncologists practicing in the United States in 2014. During the study period, there were 15,585 medical oncologists who reported receiving a total of 2.2 million industry payments that cumulatively amounted to $509 million.
The number of oncologists receiving payment during this time period was found to decrease by approximately 15.1% from 2014 to 2019 (10,498 oncologists to 8,918 oncologists). Additionally, the annual per-physician payment decreased by 3.2% yearly among those who reported receiving less than $10,000 in aggregate (95% CI, -4.1% to -2.3%; P <.001).
However, among those who reported receiving more than $10,000 in aggregate yearly, payments increased for consulting (13.7%; P <.001), entertainment, meals, travel or lodging, and gifts (0.8%; P =.03). Those who reported receiving more than $50,000 in aggregate (n=1720) accounted for 13.1% of the cohort receiving payments, but 85.8% of the total value during the study period.
Most of the 2.2 million payments (90.2%) were for entertainment, meals, travel or lodging, and gifts. The categories with the greatest values were nonaccredited education ($219 million; 42.9%) and consulting ($159 million, 31.1%).
“The study data reveal that these physicians have accepted similar or lesser amounts from industry since the inception of Open Payments, suggesting that medical oncologists who receive low-value payments may have less financial incentive to continue accepting payments in an environment of heightened public and peer scrutiny,” the researchers wrote.
Disclosures: Some of the study authors disclosed financial relationships with the pharmaceutical industry and/or the medical device industry. For a full list of disclosures, please refer to the original study.
Tarras ES, Marshall DC, Rosenzweig K, Korenstein D, Chimonas S. Trends in industry payments to medical oncologists in the United States since the inception of the Open Payments Program, 2015, to 2019. JAMA Oncol. Published online December 30, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.6591