Barry Fox is in big demand. The UW infectious disease specialist had lucrative side jobs working for seven different drug companies in just one year, including one that paid an undisclosed sum of $20,000 or more, records show.
Fox is one of dozens of University of Wisconsin-Madison physicians who also work for drug companies. Some sit on advisory boards; others do promotional or educational work. Fox, for example, did promotional work involving an antibiotic for one company in 2007, working five days for what appears to be at least $2,000 a day, his disclosure form says.
Doctors’ moonlighting for drug companies – though legal – is coming under increased scrutiny, both at UW and across the country. This month, the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America enacted a voluntary ban on company gifts of branded pens, sticky notes and other items and dinners for doctors. Also of special concern are university physicians who are sought by drug companies because of the influence and respect they wield with colleagues practicing in communities.
Most patients have no knowledge of the side work. Even the university is not aware of exactly how much its doctors earn from drug and medical device companies; they are required to disclose only ranges of income received, and no range beyond $20,000.
More than 30 UW physicians exceeded the $20,000 threshold in 2006 and 2007, records show. At least one of those doctors made at least 20 times that amount in previous years – more than $400,000, paid by a maker of orthopedic implants. But that became known in 2006 only because of records filed in a lawsuit.
Last week, for the first time, signs went up in a handful of UW Health clinics alerting patients about doctors’ drug company ties. In addition, the dean of the medical school said the university’s policies need to be shored up. Among other things, the medical school might begin requiring doctors to specify how much they are paid, said Robert Golden, head of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.
Further, U.S. Sens. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have introduced a bill that would require drug and medical device companies to disclose payments made to physicians. Kohl said it would be best to ban the practice, noting that the medical industry spends $20 billion a year in payments and gifts to doctors.
“The relationship between the doctor and patient is frayed,” Kohl said.