Drugmakers to step up background checks on doctors

Drugmakers are promising to better screen the doctors they hire as consultants and speakers. In the wake of a ProPublica report about doctor-industry relationships--which found that more than 250 company-paid doctors had been sanctioned for misconduct--companies such as Eli Lilly ($LLY) and AstraZeneca ($AZN) say they'll be taking a closer look at the physicians they hire.

ProPublica found that pharma-paid physicians were cited for such violations as prescribing excessive or unnecessary medications, and making serious medical errors, among other things. Seventy of them had been sanctioned multiple times, and 21 of them had three or more strikes on their records.

Lilly, for one, says that it plans to hire an outside firm to check state records for disciplinary actions against speakers and consultants. The company hasn't had that sort of screening program before. "Your reporting has raised valid and important questions, which we have taken steps to address," spokesman J. Scott MacGregor told ProPublica.

AstraZeneca says it's trying to figure out how it can review state disciplinary actions so that it can "act on that information in a timely manner," spokesman Tony Jewell said. Pfizer ($PFE) told ProPublica that it plans to do the same thing. Merck ($MRK) said it had already been planning to step up its background checks on physicians. 

- see the ProPublica article