There's a good possibility that new rules will be adopted by Congress, mandating that drug companies report all gifts given to doctors.

As it is now, drug firms often host doctors at conventions in fine resorts or treat the entire physicians' staff to dinner.

This might not be as common in the local area as in metropolitan locations, especially in teaching hospitals where the volume of patients is high.

The New York Times reports that "large numbers of doctors receive payments from drug and device companies every year – sometimes in the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars – in exchange for providing advice and giving lectures."

The Times also said it found that about a quarter of doctors take cash payments from drug or device makers and that nearly two-thirds accept routine gifts of food, including lunch for staff members and dinner for themselves.

If approved, under the regulations, manufacturers of prescription drugs and devices will have to report if they pay a doctor to help develop, assess, and promote new products.

It is estimated that more than 1,100 drug, device, and medical supply companies will be subject to the reporting rules.

Companies who fail to make the reports will be subject to a penalty up to $10,000 for each infraction, or if knowingly failing to make the report, up to $100,000 for each violation, up to a total of $1 million per year.

The purpose of the new rules is to help assure that physicians do what's best for their patients, instead of being influenced by drug companies.

Hopefully, the reports from the drug firms will become public record.

With an eye on the amount of spending drug companies do for promoting their products, perhaps the cost of medications might eventually be reduced.

Not all doctors benefit from the generosity of the drug companies. Those which do generally reap some very nice gifts – including fully paid, tax-free vacation packages – which certainly has to influence them when writing prescriptions.

By Ron Gower

rgower@tnonline.com