Interventional radiologists are raking in more consulting fees

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Consulting fees paid to interventional radiologists by industry sources grew sharply from 2014 and 2018, according to a study published August 18 in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

The trend is due in part to more interventional radiologists being paid these fees, as well as higher average payment amounts, wrote a team led by Dr. Andrew Kolarich of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. It also highlights interventional radiology's increasing importance in the healthcare enterprise.

"[Our] study demonstrates that there has been a large increase in consulting fee payments to interventional radiologists ... driven both by increased payment amounts and the number of physicians who receive payments," the group noted. "The variability in the amount of these payments is substantial and may reflect, at least in part, the increasing clinical relevance of the specialty."

Part of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 was the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which was intended to shed light on industry-physician relationships, Kolarich and colleagues wrote. In 2013, the Open Payments Program was launched in an effort to make public payments received by physicians from industry.

Physicians act as key consultants to medical device and pharmaceutical companies, and doctors across a variety of specialties offer this service. But there has not been much research conducted regarding interventional radiology and consulting fees, according to the authors.

For the study, the group analyzed data from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Open Payments Database from between January 2014 and December 2018. Adjusting for outliers, the team tracked the following:

  • Payment type (consulting or other fees such as travel or honoraria)
  • Total consulting fee payments per year
  • Total payments per physician
  • Aggregate payments per company

Kolarich and colleagues found that over the study time-period, industry sources paid interventional radiologists $79.8 million, of which $17.6 million (22.1%) were consulting fees.

Industry payments to interventional radiologists, 2014 to 2018
Measure 2014 2018 Percent change
Total consulting fee payments $1.8 million $3.5 million +94%
Number of interventional radiologists paid consulting fees per year 154 215 +40%
Mean total payment per physician $12,216 $16,378 +34%
Median payment per year $4,000 $5,140 +28%

The investigators also found that particular companies paid higher consulting fees to interventional radiologists. In 2018, Sirtex Medical paid the highest total aggregate amount, at $1.1 million. Pfizer followed with $451,155, and Merit Medical with $336,886.

In any case, it's likely that interventional radiologists can count on more investigation from policymakers if this trend of increasing consulting payments continues, according to the group.

"As interventional radiology continues to play an important role in device development and growing health care expenditures in the United States, continued scrutiny of industry payments will be a reality that all interventional radiologists should expect," the team concluded.

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