In a look both back and ahead at the relationships between the pharmaceutical and medical device industry and physicians, Modern Healthcare reports today that transparency has come a long way in the last three years, but there’s still a ways to go to “ensure patient care is free of financially induced bias.”

When the Senate began investigating the issue of payments from pharma and medical device companies to physicians three years ago, many in the industry denied there was a problem, writes Modern Healthcare.  “But now the healthcare industry appears poised, even if reluctant, to remove the veil that has cloaked industry-provider financial ties. An increasing number of provider organizations, medical-device companies and drugmakers have begun voluntarily disclosing those relationships, and the proposed Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which would mandate disclosure, may soon become law as part of Congress’ healthcare overhaul.”

Indeed, major drugmakers like GlaxoSmithKline and the medical device trade organization AdvaMed actively support the Senate bill, which is moving through the health care reform process now. And a number of companies, including GSK, have pledged to voluntarily disclose payments made to physicians and medical groups.

The Pew Prescription Project’s Allan Coukell and other supporters of the Physician Payments Sunshine provisions say that such voluntary disclosure efforts are no stand-in for a uniform and comprehensive transparency law like the Sunshine proposal.  “We’re nowhere near comprehensive disclosure,” Coukell said, “and if you do it company by company the information is not that useable.”

Harvard researcher Eric Campbell concurred, telling Modern Healthcare that when it comes to disclosure, details matter. “The real question is the level and depth of disclosure,” Campbell said, adding that penalties for non-compliance must be significant enough to encourage companies to collect and report the information.

For more about the Physician Payments Sunshine provisions, check out the RxP Sunshine Guide.

–Kate Petersen, PostScript blogger