Doctors: Money from medical firms can be misinterpreted

Data released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services show that many South Carolina doctors received hundreds of thousands of dollars from drug companies and medical device manufacturers.

Some South Carolina doctors believe that large amounts of money they receive each year from pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers may be misinterpreted by members of the public.

All these payments are published online by the federal government on its Open Payments website. New data released last month shows health care companies paid out $7.52 billion to 618,000 physicians across the country last year.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services launched the Open Payments website in 2014 so that patients can see how much their doctors are paid in royalties and consulting fees. While doctors agree that the transparency is a good thing, some of them also feel that adjustments should be made to the database.

“The spirit of the effort is appropriate, but the lack of detail clouds the value of the number that is reported,” said Dr. Vincent Pellegrini, an MUSC doctor who works in orthopedics.

The Open Payments website shows Pellegrini was paid $595,501 in 2015 by DePuy, an orthopedic and neurosurgery company.

The royalties were paid to Pellegrini for his product development work. But Pellegrini said he hasn’t worked with DePuy in four years and said the database needs to do a better job of explaining doctors’ relationships with these companies.

Another MUSC physician, Dr. Aquilla Turk, received $1.43 million in payments from various companies last year, including $1.36 million from Medtronic, a world-wide medical technology company.

Turk says the site doesn’t explain that the money comes from investments he made into a startup company that was purchased by Medtronic.

“If I was not a physician, this would have been treated like any private investor and only disclosed on my tax records,” he said.

Some of the highest-earning South Carolina doctors include Dr. Mohammad Chaudry, an MUSC physician who received a total of $334,630 in 2015, and Dr. Donald Johnson, founder of the Southeastern Spine Institute and chairman of the MUSC Board of Trustees, who received $207,604.

Chaudry and Johnson declined to comment.

Dr. Peter Cotton, an MUSC gastroenterologist, received $287,545 last year from various companies. More than $270,000 of those payments came from Cook Incorporated, a medical device company that uses equipment Cotton patented and licensed years ago. “I get informed on what they’re about to report and I haven’t seen any inaccuracies on my data,” Cotton said. “So I think the transparency is a good thing.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid will host an online forum for stakeholders to share their thoughts on how to improve the payment system next month.

Reach Derrek Asberry at 843-937-5517.