CMS Issues New Physician Payment Database Search Tool

October 20, 2014 in News

On Friday, CMS released a beta search tool designed to make it easier for users to look up data on its recently launched physician payment website, the Wall Street Journal‘s “Pharmalot” reports (Loftus, “Pharmalot,” Wall Street Journal, 10/17).


In September, CMS launched its Open Payments System, which is required under the Affordable Care Act’s Sunshine Act and aims to boost transparency by making public payments health care providers have received from pharmaceutical and medical device manufactures.

The first round of data includes payments made between Aug. 1, 2013, and Dec. 31, 2013.

Overall, the data show manufacturers made 4.4 million payments to physicians and teaching hospitals during the time frame valued at $3.5 billion.

The online database has received mixed reviews since its launch, with some experts and industry groups criticizing the amount of data withheld, the website’s usability and the presence of incorrect data.

For example, 40% of payments currently lack the names of doctors or hospitals that received the payments. CMS says it will re-release the data with the correct names by next June.

Further, CMS said that about one-third of Open Payments Systems records would be withheld when the system launched because of data inconsistencies.

According to a CMS factsheet, the total value of the unpublished data is $1.1 billion (iHealthBeat, 10/7).

In addition, some users experienced long delays and error messages as they tried to access the website’s data. In addition, the website was released without a user-friendly search tool to look up providers by name and view results contained in various data files. Instead, users who wished to look up an individual provider had to go to the homepage to access a separate page, open a database and manually scroll through various data fields to view basic payment information (iHeathBeat, 10/1).

Search Tool Details

According to CMS, the new tool allows users to search by a physician’s:

  • Name;
  • Location; and
  • Specialty.

In addition, consumers can search the website by names of teaching hospital and companies.

The search results list each individual payment and can be arranged from high to low or low to high. The results also organize payments and money transfers into three categories:

  • General payments, which also lists the “nature of payment,” such as food and beverage, education, etc.;
  • Research payments; and
  • Ownership in companies.

In a statement, CMS said, “Upon performing a search, the returned results will include all three payment types … on one screen.”

However, the tool does not provide a total payment amount for each doctor, hospital or company, according to “Pharmalot.”

The results also still contain some errors identified by companies reporting the data.

According to “Pharmalot,” CMS plans to correct errors in the database during a “refresh” by Dec. 31. CMS also intends to continue developing the search tool to include more functionality and displays of summary data, such as charts, graphs and other detailed information (“Pharmalot,” Wall Street Journal, 10/17).

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