Sunshine fact: $3.5B + 546,000 docs equals one unwieldy database

A few things are certain about the Sunshine Act data that hit the Internet Tuesday afternoon. One, it's incomplete. Two, it's controversial. Three, the numbers are pretty staggering, with $3.5 billion in payments to 546,000 doctors and 1,360 research institutions over a 5-month period.

But there's something more important to those looking for quick answers from the data trove--or hoping those answers don't get out, we suppose. The database is a pain in the neck.

The database is large, even after research payments and physician-owned facility info are segregated out. If you have a lot of computer power and some powerful database software, you can download all the numbers and crunch them at will.

If not--and we don't--you can use the OpenPaymentsData tool for querying the set of data you're interested in. Figure out which attributes you want to search. Choose the type of search you want to do, using standard search questions: is, is not, contains, and so on. Input your keywords. Wait for the icon to stop spinning.

Voilà! Your data, displayed in a cumbersome format that requires you to scroll, scroll, scroll to the right to move past overly wide, mostly irrelevant columns to get to the interesting stuff, namely the dollar amounts involved, the type of payment, the specific drugs involved, and so on. The whole thing seems designed to create jobs for computer types able to massage the data into meaningful information.

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