The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Thursday posted full-year 2015 financial data on its Open Payments website, designed to help consumers better understand financial relationships between physicians and drug and medical device companies.

Improved collection and analysis of financial transaction data by CMS continues its program to track trends in provider-vendor relationships and present relevant information to the public. Despite lauding the transparency efforts, a leading U.S. medical organization questioned the validity of the data, the efforts to analyze it and its relevance for consumers.

Bloomberg/file photo

The data collected for 2015 includes information about 11.9 million records attributed to nearly 619,000 physicians and 1,116 teaching hospitals, totaling $7.52 billion. Under the Sunshine Act, drug and device companies are required annually to report financial interactions with providers to CMS, which the agency makes public through its Open Payments program.

“Transparency is empowering physicians to be purposeful about their financial relationships with companies, and there is a notable shift towards charitable contributions and away from other interactions, such as honoraria and gifts,” said Shantanu Agrawal, MD, a CMS deputy administrator and director of the Center for Program Integrity.

Over the course of the program since 2014, CMS has published 28.22 million records, accounting for $16.77 billion in payments, and ownership and investment interests.

Besides the 2015 Open Payments data, CMS also released on Thursday newly submitted and updated payment records for the 2013 and 2014 reporting periods. According to the agency, the 2015 data is the second full year of data available on the Open Payments website.

However, the American Medical Association continues to take issue with the Open Payments program, calling into question the accuracy of the published information.

Although the AMA says it remains committed to transparency and the availability of information for patients to make informed decisions about their medical care, the physician group contends that the Open Payments data released by CMS must be valid, reliable, and complete—a bar that it believes remains too high for the agency.  

“While we appreciate the efforts of the CMS to verify the data submitted by industry, continued data errors and registration challenges during the previous two years have thwarted many physicians from participating in the review and validation process,” according to a written statement from AMA. “The integrity goals of the Open Payments database will not be met as long as physician review is obstructed by a registration procedure that is confusing, time consuming and overly burdensome.”

In addition, the group argued that “publishing inaccurate data leads to misinterpretations, harms reputations and undermines the trust that patients have in their physicians,” and “it can also discourage research and care delivery improvements that benefit patients.”

AMA also said that it strongly opposes inappropriate, unethical interactions between physicians and industry. At the same time, the association made the case that “not all interactions are unethical or inappropriate,” and that “there are relationships that can help drive innovation in patient care and provide significant resources for professional medical education that ultimately benefits patients.”

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