Physician sounds alarm about possible Open Payments errors

A reader responds to coverage about Open Payments.

I wanted to comment on the article “Sunshine Act Alone May Not Alter Doctor-Pharma Relations,” which appeared in the March 2018 ACP Internist.

I am no friend of the pharmaceutical industry, and I had never heard of the Sunshine Act until a month ago, when my hospital attorney called and stated that I was in conflict with my financial disclosure and conflict-of-interests statement. According to her, I was listed as taking nearly $220,000 from several drug companies in 2016. I was flabbergasted! I never talk to drug reps, let alone take money or go to dinners.

When I did my own research, I found that sure enough, the CMS Open Payments website listed me as taking research dollars as well as general funds from several different companies. I quickly assumed these were all in error, as I certainly have never received any money of any kind.

CMS did not help me when I called but told me I needed to take it up with the individual pharmaceutical companies. (I was not aware that there is a 45-day period each year when physicians can dispute a claim through the CMS website and that it is possible to sign up for CMS email alerts. After this 45-day period, physicians must go directly to the individual drug companies to rectify any false information.)

I called two of the pharmaceutical companies, and after being redirected to multiple people, I learned that both reports were due to clerical errors. I was mortified, because this is a public website and anyone can access it, including patients and newspapers. Both companies were somewhat apologetic but told me the website will be refreshed in 2019, at which time the information will be removed. I am also listed on the site as having received payments in 2015 and 2014 from companies I have never heard of.

I received no help in trying to rectify this situation, and it caused me a great deal of time and stress. I wanted to relay this story to alert other physicians to check out the website. I'm sure most do not even realize it exists.

David S. Weisman, DO, FACP