NEWS31 March 2010

Sunshine Act shines light on need for creativity in survey incentives, says Raghavan

North America

US— Researchers may have dodged a bullet with the passing of the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, but one pharma sector specialist worries that survey payments to doctors will become an issue again if the industry doesn’t pursue smarter approaches to incentives.

Madhunika Raghavan, a senior vice president at Market Probe, warns that ever-increasing cash incentives will ultimately draw the attention of lawmakers who seek to minimise any undue influence drugs companies and medical device manufacturers have on doctors purchasing decisions.

“I have been in the business for a number of years now,” says Raghavan, “and I have only seen incentives go one way. They started out as modest payments, but have gone up. Once we start to pay hundreds of dollars [per interview] incentives will come under scrutiny again.”

The federal Sunshine Act, which was signed into law last week as part of President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform package, calls for mandatory reporting of payments made by drugs companies and medical device manufacturers to doctors. Initially it threatened to include survey incentives, but industry lobbying efforts helped secure an amendment to the bill that excluded thank you payments for taking part in surveys provided the company sponsoring the research is unaware of the respondents’ identity.

Raghavan believes the industry “sure came close to a cliff” with the Sunshine Act. Research she co-authored last year suggested that almost one third of physicians would have been put off participating in market research studies had the law passed in its original form.

According to the research 91% of doctors surveyed listed incentives or honoraria as one of the main reasons they take part in MR studies – but that was alongside a desire to be ‘in the know’, to better understand patient needs and because they enjoy contributing ideas. In Raghavan’s view, it is high time the industry came together to consider ways of capitalising on these alternative means for encouraging survey participation.

“We learned from our survey that there could be other ways to motivate doctors – sure, honoraria in cash is most preferred, but there was a willingness to consider other options, should the language in the Sunshine Act have prevailed,” she says.

One popular alternative to cash payments presented in the survey was charitable donations. Another approach, tested by Market Probe itself, is to feed back snippets of topline data to respondents so they can understand where their views sit in comparison to their peers. “I do not think that we can completely do away with cash incentives,” says Raghavan, “but this offers an opportunity to explore more creative ways to encourage participation in this finite, valuable population.”

3 Comments

10 years ago

This is a very interesting article. Certainly I would agree that exploring non-monetary means of honoraria would be advised, particularly if the typical sums have been increasing. People like to be recognized for the participation and expertise that they bring to the endeavour, so perhaps a charitable donation, in that person's name, can povide that.

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10 years ago

As we specifically noted in our press release when we announced MRA's lobbying victory in the Sunshine Act, directed charitable donations were specifically targeted by the Act in the same fashion as a direct payment -- they are not an "alternative" route for MR incentives in this case. http://www.mra-net.org/news/article.cfm?aID=1075

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10 years ago

Hi Howard. Just to make clear, your comment relates to the Sunshine Act as it originally was, yes? So originally the Sunshine Act would have required public reporting of both cash payments and charitable donations offered as survey incentives, but now both are excluded from the reporting requirements of the bill. Is that correct? If it is, then a charitable donation is an acceptable alternative to a cash incentive going forward, right? I'm assuming, though, that your contention is with the assumption that if the industry wasn't so overly reliant on cash payments it wouldn't have been targeted by legislators in this way?

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