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Physicians’ financial data under the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, also known as the “Open Payments” program, will be released to the public Tuesday. While your data might not make it into the local news, chances are your patients or others you know will ask you about it. Learn the three common questions you’ll hear—and how to answer them.

Questions from confused patients are especially likely, given that the online database is not expected to offer much context for the financial interactions it reports between physicians and manufacturers of medical devices and drugs. While the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is required by law to provide such context—a key to true transparency—the agency has been unresponsive to AMA calls for greater public education.

Here are three questions you’ll most likely hear and sample talking points for giving a thoughtful response:

1Why do physicians get money or items of value from the industry?

Physicians interact with the industry in many ways, including as consultants, speakers, researchers or recipients of “items of value.” These interactions generally benefit patients. For instance, physicians often receive items of value, such as medical journal reprints or certain patient education materials.

2Don’t relationships with the industry influence physicians’ decisions and recommendations?

The medical profession always is aware of the potential for conflicts of interest. But a relationship with the industry doesn’t automatically mean that a physician’s judgment has been influenced inappropriately. Industry support for research and development has been essential for developing new interventions and technologies to improve patient care and reduce health care costs.

3How could individual physicians be justified in accepting large sums of money from the industry?

While there probably are some instances when physicians received money that, in retrospect, they should not have accepted, there are legitimate reasons that a physician could be listed as having accepted a large sum of money. For instance, many physicians receive funds to support clinical trials, an essential component of advancing medical knowledge around specific conditions and treatments.

You can download more detailed talking points (log in) from the AMA website to help inform your conversations.

sunshine-actData accuracy concerns

If you weren’t able to review your data by the Sept. 11 deadline to flag any disputed information in the initial public data release, you should do so now. CMS is withholding one-third of the data from the initial public release as a result of concerns about accuracy. Much of the remaining two-thirds of data that will be released in the public database has yet to be verified by physicians and other covered recipients.

Physicians still have until Dec. 31 to file disputes for any inaccurate information that should be corrected in the next data release. View instructions for doing so on the AMA’sSunshine Act Web page.

Want to know what the AMA has been doing about this issue? Read how the AMA has been advocating for an overhaul of how the Sunshine Act has been implemented.

In addition, the AMA issued a media guide (log in) ahead of the Sept. 30 data release and is encouraging the media to make sure their reports about this data are presented in an accurate and informative way.

Source: American Medical Association

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