What I knew about Propublica was its focusing on investigative journalism in the public interest. However, what I had not known was there is something beyond investigative reports in Propublica.
After I visited its headquarter on Sep. 5, which is very close to Wall street in Manhattan of NYC, and interviewed with Paul E. Steiger, Executive Chairman of Propublica and former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, I became interested in the databases they manage to build for the public, especially the database so called Dollars for Docs (http://projects.propublica.org/docdollars/).
ProPublica’s Dollars for Docs database suggested that more than $2 billion had been paid to doctors, other medical providers and health care institutions that have been disclosed by 15 pharmaceutical companies since 2009. ProPublica took these disclosures and assembled them into a single, comprehensive database that allows patients to search for their physician or medical center and receive a listing of all payments matching that name. The database can also be searched by state and by company.
In Propublica office, Steiger, 71 years old, seemed happy to mention the invention of his three young reporters. He said, when I was in WSJ, the database would belong to stockholders we will not be able to make it available to be used by any other news organization in the world. But because we (Propulica) are non-profit, we can help all of them.
Steiger said, as a result, we have local newspapers, TV stations, one-person blogs……the whole ranges of news organizations do their stories to local audience. That stretched beyond what we can do ourselves.
What has interested me is the data on GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) http://projects.propublica.org/docdollars/companies/glaxosmithkline, the British drugmaker, which is involved in a notorious bribery scandal in China.
Chinese police said in July they had detained four Chinese executives at GSK on allegations the executives funneled up to 3 billion yuan ($489.92 million) to travel agencies to facilitate bribes to doctors to boost the sale of its medicines. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/06/gsk-bribery_n_3882744.html
According to the database of Propublica, there are 19,250 disclosures Found for Payments from GSK. http://projects.propublica.org/docdollars/companies/glaxosmithkline/payments
Propublica suggests that on each payment record in Dollars for Docs, you can find details about the drugs each company makes, how it describes the service performed and questions you can ask your doctor about his or her relationship with the companies.
It would be amazing if this kind of database be built in China. As WSJ had reported, the relationship between Glaxo and doctors shines a light on China’s fast-growing but deeply underfunded medical system. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323838204578654021618981986.html
It is common for doctors to receive benefit for drugmakers, which has become kind of public secret in medical industry in China. It is not strange if a doctor seeks speaking fees or makes deals in which he gets a 15% to 25% cut of the sales of drugs his prescribe.
Actually, as a multi-nation and listed company, GSK is relatively transparent in China market. The investigation of GSK could be the first step for China to manage to convert the bribery tradition in medical field but it could result in a failure if it stops after GSK case, doctors cannot be reasonably paid and the medical industry remains opaque in China .
In America, the Affordable Care Act requires that all pharmaceutical and medical device companies publicly report this data beginning in 2014. It means Propublica’s database will be updated soon and could be much more powerful as well as meaningful!