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Does the Sunshine Act Affect Patient Trust?

By Tim Callahan12 Jun 2019

sunshine-act-patient-trustAlthough it was developed to increase transparency and facilitate communications, some healthcare professionals worry the Sunshine Act is negatively impacting their reputation with patients.The Sunshine Act requires drug, medical device and biologics manufacturers participating in federally funded healthcare programs to report to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) any compensation given to physicians, teaching hospitals or group purchasing organizations.

Data recordings of these transactions began in August 2013 and since then, physicians and teaching hospitals have worried this information could undermine patient trust and threaten the doctor-patient relationship.

Why Does the Sunshine Act Exist?

The Physician Payments Sunshine Act was created to increase the transparency of company-physician relationships. This came after several studies concluded physicians who engaged in financial interactions with drug makers were more likely to prescribe newer, more expensive drugs and treatments, according to data from Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC).

By requiring organizations to disclose those financial interactions, the act aims to hold both drug or medical device manufacturers and physicians or healthcare organizations accountable.

How Does The Sunshine Act Affect Physician Reputation?

Although the reporting requirements are designed to increase transparency and in turn improve relationships between healthcare professionals and their patients, some physicians are concerned the Sunshine Act could tarnish patient confidence.

When the information is just a Google search away, what’s to stop patients from accessing records of any compensation physicians receive, even in the form of charitable contributions? (Transfers of ownership, items of value, consulting fees, research payments, grants and honoraria are also disclosed via reporting requirements.) And while making reported payments public and accessible is intended to help patients make informed decisions and open the door for more productive, confidence-building communications between patients and physicians, a lack of specific context could make it look like physicians have a conflict of interest even when they don’t.

Plus, because manufacturers are the ones responsible for reporting to CMS, there is an increased risk to physician reputation. The onus is on physicians to ensure accurate reporting of payments. And though physicians can challenge any information reported to CMS, if an agreement cannot be reached, the data remains publicly accessible.

The Sunshine Act as a Safeguard

It’s important to recognize the Sunshine Act was designed to protect both patients and physicians from the undue influence of pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturers. The reporting requirements and transparency reflect your interests in those very items which ultimately benefit your patients. Be sure to pay close attention to all reported payments from companies.

For your peace of mind, you may want to invest in compliance software which can alert you to any reports posted to CMS in your name. This way, you can track your payments and check for accuracy as soon as CMS receives the information.

While the Sunshine Act can negatively affect patient trust, verify the accuracy of posts can help protect your patient-physician relationship.

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