An article published today in the Columbus Dispatch shines a spotlight on physicians receiving payments from pharmaceutical companies for speaking and consulting engagements.  The article identifies several central Ohio physicians who have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from drug companies from 2009 through 2012.  The Dispatch’s analysis, taken from data gathered by Propublica , a nonprofit investigative reporting organization, concludes that at least 18 central Ohio doctors have received more than $100,000 from pharmaceutical companies over the period, with the highest receiving almost $650,000 over the 4-year period.

While the article does not specifically allege or identify any illegality or wrongdoing, it openly raises the question of whether such payments amount to a conflict of interest for the physicians.  In their defense, many of the physicians interviewed for the story explain that the fees they receive from drug companies for speaking and consultation do not influence their patient care decisions or views as to a specific drug.  One physician also noted that his involvement in these activities helps him stay on the cutting edge of his profession.

In today’s heightened enforcement environment, this kind of attention should put physicians and other providers on notice that they may be called upon to defend remunerative relationships with drug companies and other suppliers.  Interest and concern over pharma payments to physicians is sure to increase as drug companies will be required, starting August 1, 2013, to disclose payments to physicians starting as part of the health care reform law.  Information collected through these disclosures is expected to be released publicly by the end of September 2014.  This article seems to be an early warning shot to physicians and providers over what may be coming.