In Virginia, doctors have taken more than $6 million form seven drug companies over the last two years, according to a database compiled by ProPublica. But more transparency in on the way.
Currently, only seven of the more than 70 pharmaceutical companies operating in the United States disclose which doctors they pay to consult and promote their drugs. By 2013, they'll all be required to do so as part of the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, and more information is becoming available all the time.
For example, recent disclosures show that Dr. Farhad Zangeneh, an endocrinologist in Vienna, has received almost $230,000 from various drug companies over the last two years, including one speaking event for GlaxoSmithKline for $95,000. He declined to respond to multiple requests for an interview.
Critics of the practice say it undermines the medical profession. One such critic is Lisa Eckenwiler, associate professor of philosophy and director of health-care ethics at George Mason University.
"I think it's a conflict of interest because it creates the potential for patients to be adversely affected by having some sort of drug prescribed for them that isn't the one that they need the most," she says.
Doctors who take money from pharmaceutical companies disagree that the money presents a conflict of interest. Dr. Richard Ashby is a family practice physician in Alexandria.
"I kind of take offense to those who think that physicians, who are thought to be the brightest people, having to be supervised for influence," Ashby says.
By September of 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services will make all the information public and searchable.