An unprecedented disclosure of payments from drug companies shows that $3.07 million for consulting was paid in 2,388 payments to Rochester-based Mayo Clinic researchers, doctors and hospitals during five months last year.
However, Mayo Clinic officials point out that they have a strict policy about such payments, which all must be approved by its Conflict of Interest Committee. Such policies, which many medical centers have, are a way of preventing medical professionals from being unduly influenced by money from drug companies in their decisions, such as what drugs they prescribe.
For the same period, Cleveland Clinic staff collected $4.3 million in private money for consulting, while Johns Hopkins Hospital employees took in a mere $4,627.
Dr. Richard Ehman, vice-chair of the Conflict of Interest Committee, said that Mayo Clinic's restrictive policies are unusual within the medical industry.
"We know all of the financial relationships of our staff. That's unheard of," said Ehman.
Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins urge their employees to disclose their private contracts, though they stop short of requiring it in every case, according to their policies posted on their websites. Mayo, Cleveland and Johns Hopkins all agree that a physician or scientist serving as primary leader of a research project are banned from having private contracts with the companies involved.
Hundreds of Mayo Clinic doctors are receiving millions from drug companies and medical device makers for private consulting every year, while many others are paid one-third of the royalties generated by their work.
Disclosing all of the financial contracts between private companies and doctors is the goal of the Open Payments website run by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It features a database of doctors and the money they receive from outside sources. It's now required by the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, which was part of the Affordable Care Act health reform.
In late September, data from August to December 2013 was released on the site. This batch of records includes about 4.4 million payments made to about 550,000 doctors and 1,360 teaching hospitals. However, some of the information reported by private companies is incomplete, confusing and, in some cases, incorrect.
For Mayo Clinic doctors, 100 percent of the payments for private consulting go directly to them. Mayo began allowing such consulting contracts in 1999, when it changed the rule that required all consulting payments to go to the clinic.
The payments for those five months show all different types, including royalties, research money and royalties.
In addition to the consulting payments during those five months, a total of 68 payments totaling $3.01 million were made to Mayo Clinic for research, according to the database.
All research money, like grants, goes directly to Mayo Clinic.
However, physicians or researchers receive one-third of the amount of royalty payments received by the clinic from drug companies, according to clinic policy. During the five months of reports, Mayo Clinic received a total of $1.9 million in royalties.
Just one company -- DePuy Synthes Sales Inc., a subsidiary of heath care giant Johnson & Johnson, reported paying a total of more than $1.15 million to Mayo Clinic or its doctors in 278 payments from August to December.
In the wake of the recent federally-mandated deluge of information about the financial ties between doctors and private drug/medical device companies, Ehman explained that Mayo Clinic does allow its employees to personally profit from such agreements. However, every financial relationship must be approved by the Conflict of Interest Committee.