Studies have reported that around 94% of doctors have some sort of relationship with pharmaceutical companies. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that more than one third of physician respondents received reimbursement from drug companies for costs associated with meetings or continuing education, and over a quarter received payments for enrolling patients in trials, or for consultations and lectures. Patients can already see if their doctor has received compensation from drug companies on ProPublica’s database, Dollars for Docs—but one physician wants to take that a step further.
Dr. Leana Wen, director of patient-centered care research at George Washington University recently launched “Who’s My Doctor,” a platform where doctors can sign a Total Transparency Manifesto and disclose what outside funding they receive, what proportion of their pay comes from where and, if they’re willing, details about their family, political affiliation and philosophy of practice. For instance, a woman may want to know how her doctor feels about contraception, or abortion, or early breast cancer screenings. Parents might want to know how a doctor feels about routine vaccination. They can also, of course, see which drug companies, if any, the doctor has ties to.
“Dozens of studies have shown that when docs receive money from drug companies—even a free lunch—it does affect prescription behavior,” she says. Indeed, despite doctors’ assurances that pharmaceutical relationships don’t interfere with patient care, other research and investigations has showed it does.
“As doctors we need to be able to establish and maintain that trust,” says Wen in an interview with TIME. “I think financial interest is a big problem. If we are ashamed to tell our patients about our financial conflicts of interest then we should question why we have them in the first place.” Wen spoke about her pledge at the TEDMed conference in early September. Part of her motivation came from watching her mother, who was battling breast cancer, discover that her physician was financially tied to the chemotherapy regimen he prescribed.
Not all doctors support the idea of asking physicians to declare personal preferences and background. Some posted criticisms about Wen’s platform when she launched it in spring 2014. “I devoted 12 years of my life to being a slave. I have loans and mortgages…. I depend on lunches from drug companies to serve patients,” wrote one doctor. Another commented: “I find it an invasion of my privacy to disclose where my income comes from. My patients don’t disclose their incomes to me.”
Other doctors are on-board, though. “I want doctors to see this as a positive thing for them and I want patients to be asking for it too,” says Wen. “This is the right thing to do.”