This blog requires my best efforts to be even-handed. (Yes, I know that that statement will seem like a big joke to some readers.) So I have to devote equal time to beating up my own specialty of family medicine, as I have done with psychiatry and other recent targets.
This week's news from the American Academy of Family Physicians informs members that our President, Dr. Ted Epperly of Idaho, has taken issue with some of the provisions in the Physician Payments Sunshine Act introduced by Sens. Grassley and Kohl:
Some of my family medicine colleagues who share my views about ethics and the pharmaceutical industry lit into Dr. Epperly with all barrels blazing, so it's only fair to quote that "he agrees with the overall intent of the Physician Payments Sunshine Act of 2009...[and says,] 'We need to have transparency' between physicians and the pharmaceutical industry and device manufacturers... However, the latest version of the bill is overly onerous and creates the potential for
'unanticipated and unintended consequences.' "
Nevertheless, while Dr. Epperly seems to be claiming that he's merely trying to fine-tune the bill, his specific proposals sound more like drug industry lobbying than like the statement of a president of a professional society. He is worried that individual family physicians will be overly burdened by the reporting requirements for amounts as low as $100 (when the real burden for reporting falls on the industry, not the physician). He is worried that physicians will be deterred from gaining needed continuing education (when the AAFP should be encouraging their members to get CME from sources that are not commercially tainted).
I was forced to disclose in HOOKED that the AAFP, at least several years ago when I had access to the data, received roughly a third of its operating revenue from the pharmaceutical industry. Dr. Epperly's comments highlight the concerns that we have when professional societies become that dependent upon industry funds--it seems very easy to assume that the interests of the professional medical organization are identical with those of the industry that foots so much of the bill. And that, in turn, is a very worrisome state of affairs. AAFP should think more about getting its own house in order (as some of its own state chapters have done by declaring their annual state-wide meetings pharm-free) and less about telling Senators Grassley and Kohl what to put in their bill.