The good news is that some pharmaceutical companies now disclose payments they make to doctors for speaking engagements or consulting and to researchers, hospitals, and other medical institutions for clinical studies.
The bad news is that each company discloses the information differently. That will change as part of the overhaul of the nation's health insurance system, but we won't see the results of that until 2013.
For now, we'll need to make do with nonstandard disclosures, such as those released by GlaxoSmithKline P.L.C., Merck & Co. Inc., and Pfizer Inc. this week covering payments made in 2010.
You can't search by city usually, so I picked line by line through the lists of payments the drug companies posted on their websites. Pfizer is one of the few that present the data with limited search functions to find institutions or individual doctors.
For example, I searched Pfizer's disclosure report for "University of Pennsylvania," and found three entries, each categorized as Pfizer-sponsored research, totaling $1,199,378. Karl Rickels was listed as the principal investigator for a research project with a cash payment of $73,791.
In all, Pfizer listed 199,971 "entities" being paid a total of $176.7 million in 2010. GlaxoSmithKline paid out $75.3 million to 6,926 speakers or researchers last year, while Merck paid $20.36 million to 2,088 individuals.
Pfizer's report discloses a wider range of payments to doctors, researchers, and institutions. Payments to support clinical research accounted for most of its 2010 payments - $108 million. Payments to health-care professionals for speaking at expert-led forums amounted to $34.4 million.
According to a 175-page report released Thursday, GlaxoSmithKline paid $56.8 million to 5,331 doctors and other professionals for speaking on behalf of the company. It also said it had lowered the maximum amount any speaker could receive to $100,000 from $150,000 in 2009. Steven V. Stryk, of Canton, Mich., was the only one to receive the $100,000 maximum.
In a separate 28-page report, GlaxoSmithKline disclosed that it paid $28.5 million to various institutions for 127 clinical-research studies involving 595 lead researchers or principal investigators.
In issuing its 86-page report Tuesday, Merck said that doctors and other health professionals, on average, participated in 5.9 programs in 2010, and earned an average of $1,659 per program.
A 2008 agreement between Cephalon Inc. and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requires the Frazer biopharmaceutical company to disclose payments for speaker's fees, consulting services, and the conducting of clinical research. Cephalon organized its 2010 fees paid for speaker programs and consulting services alphabetically, but the listings are grouped by a dollar-amount range. The vast majority of doctors received less than $10,000.
Scroll to the end of the list of fees paid in 2010 for services and you'll see that the doctor who received the most was Zale Bernstein, of Buffalo; Cephalon paid him $174,800.
Sunshine is a great thing to highlight ongoing practices in the pharmaceutical industry. I just wish the corporate windows worked a little better.