Oncology gets pharma cash

3 minute read

Haematology and oncology are the winners when it comes to receiving direct payments from pharmaceutical manufacturers, with neurologists getting the highest individual payments.

One in 20 Australian doctors have accepted a payment from a pharmaceutical manufacturer, according to new data published in the MJA – but not every specialty felt the love equally.  

The data, which was included in a research letter published by the MJA this week, was drawn from Medicines Australia’s disclosure log.  

Since 2019, the industry group’s 44 member companies have been required to upload details of any payments made to a healthcare professional, be it speaker fees, consultancy fees, grants, service fees, travel and accommodation, conference registration or compensation for participation in market research.  

Food and beverages are non-reportable categories.   

The MJA authors noted that existing evidence has consistently suggested a probable causal relationship between payments from pharmaceutical companies and prescribing patterns.  

General practice ranked sixth on the top-10 list of total payments, with GPs having accepted a total of $2.2 million from Medicines Australia member companies between November 2019 and October 2022.  

The median payment for GPs was $873 – the lowest of the 10 specialties – but with the relatively large interquartile range of $409 to $1470.  

Neurology, gastroenterology, ophthalmology and dermatology all made the top 10 list, but received less in total than general practice.  

The two specialties leading the pack were haematology/oncology with total payments of $6.1 million and cardiology with $3.6 million. 

These were followed by endocrinology, respiratory and rheumatology with around $2.5 million each.  

In terms of individual median payments, the clear winners were neurologists at $1500.  

Ophthalmologists, dermatologists, endocrinologists, haematologists and oncologists all tied for second place with the next-highest median payment of around $1200. 

While haematology and oncology received the largest total cash injection, rheumatology was the specialty with the highest proportion of payment recipients.  

A full two-thirds of the country’s rheumatologists received payments from big pharma, making it the only specialty where a majority of doctors had done so.  

The next closest was respiratory and sleep medicine specialists at 42%, followed by haematologists and oncologists at 40%.  

In terms of the absolute number of beneficiaries, haematologists and oncologists still came out on top given that there are just 440 rheumatologists in Australia, compared to the 2200 haematologists and oncologists.  

Looking at the flipside, the biggest spender was Novartis Pharmaceuticals, which shelled out $3.7 million to doctors over the three-year time period.  

AstraZeneca, Bayer and Pfizer, meanwhile, spent around $2.5 million each.  

MJA 2024, online 6 May 

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