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Dollars for Docs: a Toledo doctor speaks out

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TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - WTOL 11 has had a big response from viewers about our special investigation "Dollars for Docs," a look into the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and physicians.

Jonathan Walsh sat down with Dr. Greg Rosenthal, a co-founder of Physicians for Clinical Responsibility, a national leader for patients' rights. Rosenthal gave us his opinions about the issues surrounding payments to doctors.

Rosenthal, who is a senior partner of Vision Associates in west Toledo, tells us even though there's been stronger rules about payments and there are new pharmaceutical payment disclosures, the influence of big drug companies is very much alive.

"Patients really need to be aware, really need to know what's going on and what their rights are," Rosenthal.

He's talking about ethical questions surrounding payments to doctors from pharmaceutical companies.

"I was at a recent meeting and looked at the speakers list. One hundred and seventy-three speakers at the meeting and 171 of who had financial conflicts of interest. And I thought to myself, ‘Why don't we just wear NASCAR jackets with the logos of our sponsors on the sleeve that would be more transparent,'" said Rosenthal.

The top three drug companies who spent the most money on medical professionals in 2009 and 2010 in Northwest Ohio have all said they keep patients' care at the top of their priority lists and in response to our recent investigation Eli Lilly said its relationships with healthcare providers comply with legal and ethical standards.

Click here to read Jonathan Walsh's full investigation, including more of Eli Lilly's response.

Doctor Rosenthal has given many presentations on ethical standards including one in front of a US Senate panel and said the vast majority of physicians are good doctors including those in Toledo. But, he says there are questionable practices happening across the country.

"In a few cases, researchers have been paid with stock options so they only get paid if the data really looks good," said Rosenthal.

He said there's so much money available, some companies have been very brazen about what they expect from employees.

"I've been offered to be involved in several of these Phase IV studies and typically they'll say, 'Well, doctor, you know that whole IRB function is so difficult.  We don't want to trouble your local hospital so we'll have our own IRB. Just don't tell them that we're doing this,'" said Rosenthal.

Rosenthal says you should have a frank conversation with your doctors. If you start to hear some questionable answers, you may want to change doctors.

Here are a list of suggested questions:        

  • Am I being put in a study?
  • Is this a phase IV study?
  • Is this a more legitimate phase 3 study?
  • What are you being paid to put me in the study?
  • What are the options, other available treatments out there?
  • Are you being paid to have an opinion one way or the other about a given treatment, medication or procedures.

Also, here's a link to the Physicians for Clinical Responsibility website:  http://www.clinicalresponsibility.org/

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