Every year, drug companies pay doctors millions of dollars. Now everyone has access to public records to see if their doctor is being compensated.
Until recently, this was all a big secret, but companies like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson began reporting the information publicly under pressure from lawmakers or following federal lawsuits.
But the investigative journalism group ProPublica is providing the public to search a database called “Dollars for Docs.”
Is a doctor prescribing a certain drug because it's what's best for the patient or because the doctor is getting paid? For the first time, drug companies have to report their payoffs to doctors.
"If there is a choice of drugs from different companies and that doctor is only or nearly exclusively providing patients with that companies drugs, that is an eye opener," said Ted Mazer, M.D., an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
Dr. Ted Mazer isn't named on the list, but hundreds of San Diego doctors are.
"It makes one think should I be doing this, my name is going to be out there and it's going to have "X" number of dollars attached to it," Mazer said. "Can I in my mind justify to me and my patients and colleagues that's all legitimate?"
But Dr. Mazer also says this transparency must be put into context for patients. Doctors help develop new medicine, they educate their colleagues about uses of new drugs, and they advise companies.
"The doctor that is afraid of having their name show up because someone may misinterpret that may back away from doing research from education that's not going to serve a good purpose," Mazer said.
NBC San Diego contacted 25 local doctors at random listed on ProPublica's database, some of whom allegedly accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars since 2009 from drug companies.
All but one doctor declined to comment or simply didn't return our phone calls.
If you use the database and find your doctor on that list, Dr. Mazer says the best thing to do is to confront your provider. If the doctor has nothing to hide, he or she should be honest about it.
ProPublica's database also includes hundreds of thousands of doctors listed merely for eating lunch or dinner on a pharmaceutical company's dime.
Take Pfizer, for example, 80-percent of the 200,000 doctors listed in its payments last year didn't do any sort of work for the company-- but still received free meals.
There are voluntary industry guidelines that allow meals to be offered as a business courtesy, depending on the occasion, but some companies even put a limit on the cost per meal.
Overall last year, Pfizer spent much less on meals, $18-million, than it did on Promotional Speakers, $34-million, and Research, $108-million dollars.
Visit the "Dollars for Docs" to see if your doctor is on the list.