Beginning January 1, 2012, the Physician Payment Sunshine Act will require pharmaceutical, device, biological, and other medical-supply companies to report payments and other transfers of value provided to physicians and teaching hospitals for a wide array of purposes—from consulting to food and travel. 

Many pharmaceutical and medical-device companies now disclose such payments on their websites.  A journalist organization hired by Pew Charitable Trust, ProPublica, created a searchable database of those already-posted payments for the public.

In creating the database, ProPublica, collaborating with national and local media news sources, published  slanted stories about payments from industry to physicians, casting them in a negative light.

As companies prepare to report payments under the Sunshine Act (the first report is required by March 31, 2013), there are significant concerns.

Information obtained through the Sunshine Act will be a resource for violations of fraud and abuse prosecution, such as the False Claims Act; be pertinent for non-compliance with federal regulations on conflicts in clinical research; and may present a reputational risk, due to the appearance of impropriety.

Payments to physicians may prompt inquiries into patterns and practices related to delivery and billing. So state and federal prosecutors will “data mine” the Sunshine payment databases, looking for doctors, institutions, and companies to prosecute. As a result, companies, institutions, physicians, researchers and teaching hospitals must begin to consider the potential risks of transparency in payments by industry. 

Tom Sullivan is founder and president of med ed firm Rockpointe and author of the Policy and Medicine blog (