Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

The majority of attention regarding the Affordable Care Act has been focused on health insurance issues, but other parts of the healthcare reform law will also impact the relationship between the federal government and physicians.

Through the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will make payments and transfers of value made to physicians and teaching hospitals from biopharmaceutical and medical technology companies available to the public. However, what will not be captured in those reports are the tangible benefits, scientific results and medical innovations that resulted from collaboration.

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During my 30-year career as a neurosurgeon, healthcare interventions have progressed tremendously and benefited the patients I serve. We can successfully treat diseases that had few or no treatment options only a few years ago. We have access to an ever-expanding armamentarium of treatments through ongoing technological advances. What many people don’t know is that collaborations between biopharmaceutical and medical technology companies and neurosurgeons have been responsible for most of these advances in neurosurgical care.

With the ongoing implementation of the Sunshine Act – including the June 1 opening of registration for physicians with the CMS’ Enterprise Portal – there is an increased need to educate the public about why collaborations between physicians and industry are an extremely important part of advancing the health and well-being of our patients. Conducting clinical trials, consulting on research and sharing knowledge about actual use of medicines beyond a controlled clinical setting are examples of this. 

This system of collaboration, like any system, is not perfect, and it is essential that any incorrect actions be recognized and reported. That said, we also need to talk about all the positive ways in which doctors and companies work together, or we will throw the baby out with the bathwater.

As a neurosurgeon, I have served on medical advisory boards for companies and have spoken at conferences about new innovations in neurosurgery. These activities have helped to improve the care of our patients.

I know that my patients trust me enough to counsel them about which treatment options I believe are best for them. In my experience, this is invariably the case with my neurosurgical colleagues.

Many other specialties have benefited from similar relationships. That is why my organization is part of Partners for Healthy Dialogues (www.healthydialogues.org), which provides information about how physician-industry interactions improve patient care.

Harbaugh, MD, FAANS, FACS, FAHA, is president of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

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