Top drugmakers spent $220M on doctor-speakers

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For those of you who like to slice and dice info on drugmakers' financial ties to doctors, the pool of data just got a lot bigger. ProPublica has compiled the numbers on 12 pharma companies' payments to physicians, whether in the form of consulting or speaking fees, or dinners with company representatives. ProPublica's database has swollen to more than half a million records, partly because drugmakers are now including doctors who only accepted free meals.

The total dollar figure has grown--to $220 million in speaking fees alone--in part because more companies are reporting their payments. In fact, there are indications that some drugmakers are shelling out less money to doctors.

AstraZeneca ($AZN), for instance, cut its spending on speakers to $9.2 million in the second half of 2010 from $22.8 million for the first half of the year, ProPublica notes. GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) speaker spending declined by 15% to $13.2 million per quarter in 2010, on average, compared with the per-quarter numbers in 2009. And Cephalon ($CEPH) cut its speaking payments to $5 million in 2010 from $9.2 million in 2009.

Meanwhile, there are also hints doctors might be backing away from pharma work to avoid the disclosures now mandated for some companies. In 2013, all drugmakers will be required to report physician payment statistics. Some higher-paid doctors are opting out, such as pulmonologist Veena Antony, who told ProPublica she didn't want speaking fees to interfere with patient trust. "You don't even want the appearance that I might be influenced by anything that a company gave," she said.

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