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Doctors Push Drugs for Dollars

Physicians are being paid by drug companies to promote brand-name prescriptions. Is yours?

Roseman’s public profile comes from his work as one of Glaxo’s highest-paid speakers. In 2009 and 2010, he earned $223,250 from the firm — in addition to payouts from other companies.

Pharma companies often say their physician salesmen are chosen for their expertise. Glaxo, for example, said it selects “highly qualified experts in their field, well-respected by their peers and, in the case of speakers, good presenters.”

To check the qualifications of top-paid doctors, reporters searched for medical research, academic appointments and professional society involvement.... In numerous cases, little information turned up.

ProPublica found that some top speakers are experts mainly because the companies have deemed them such. Several acknowledge that they are regularly called upon because they are willing to speak when, where and how the companies need them to.

“It’s sort of like American Idol,” said sociologist Susan Chimonas, who studies doctor-pharma relationships at the Institute on Medicine as a Profession in New York City.

“Nobody will have necessarily heard of you before — but after you’ve been around the country speaking 100 times a year, people will begin to know your name and think, ‘This guy is important.’ It creates an opinion leader who wasn’t necessarily an expert before.”

To check the qualifications of top-paid doctors, reporters searched for medical research, academic appointments and professional society involvement. They also interviewed national leaders in the physicians’ specialties.

In numerous cases, little information turned up.

Las Vegas endocrinologist Firhaad Ismail, for example, is the top earner in the database, making $303,558, yet only his schooling and mostly 20-year-old research articles could be found. An online brochure for a presentation he gave earlier this month listed him as chief of endocrinology at a local hospital, but an official there said he hasn’t held that title since 2008.

And several leading pain experts said they’d never heard of Santa Monica pain doctor Gerald Sacks, who was paid $249,822 since 2009.

Neither physician returned multiple calls and letters.

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