The publication of the US Physician Payments Sunshine Act provides insight into the financial relationship between physicians and the pharmaceutical industry. This added transparency creates new opportunities of using objective data to better understand prior research that implicates pharmaceutical promotions as an important factor in a physician’s decision-making process.
To assess the association between reported industry payments and physician-prescribing habits by comparing the use of anti–vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) intravitreal injections by US ophthalmologists to the industry payments these same physicians received.
Design, Setting, Participants
This study reviews data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) 2013 Medicare Provider Utilization and Payment Data: Physician and Other Supplier Public Use File and the CMS-sponsored August through December 2013 Open Payments program (Physician Payments Sunshine Act). Ophthalmologists who prescribe anti-VEGF injections for all indications were analyzed.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Association between industry payments reportedly received and the number and type of anti-VEGF injections administered.
A total of 3011 US ophthalmologists were reimbursed by CMS for 2.2 million anti-VEGF injections in 2013. Of these physicians, 38.0% reportedly received $1.3 million in industry payments for ranibizumab and aflibercept. Analysis revealed positive associations between increasing numbers of reported industry payments and total injection use (r = 0.24; 95% CI, 0.22-0.26; P < .001), aflibercept and ranibizumab injection use (r = 0.32; 95% CI, 0.29-0.34; P < .001), and percentage of injections per physician that were aflibercept or ranibizumab (r = 0.27; 95% CI, 0.25-0.29; P < .001). A smaller association was noted between greater number of industry payments and bevacizumab injection use (r = 0.07; 95% CI, 0.04-0.09; P < .001). Similar associations were found between the total dollars of reported industry payments received to injection use. Subgroup analysis further revealed that physicians receiving $1 to $25 in reported industry benefits were more likely than those not receiving industry payments to perform a greater percentage of their injections with aflibercept and ranibizumab.
Conclusions and Relevance
Among ophthalmologists who prescribe anti-VEGF medications, there is a positive association between reported pharmaceutical payments and increased use of aflibercept and ranibizumab injections. As is inherent to the design of correlation studies, this analysis cannot determine whether the payments reported caused the increased use, are a result of the increased use, or are merely associated with some other factor that causes the increased use.