A database is being made public today that’s designed to shed light on payments doctors get from drug companies. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley co-authored the bill, which was enacted in 2010, but it’s taken years for the legislation to work through the system.

Grassley says the law requires drug companies to disclose payments they make to doctors for speaking fees, research grants, trips and other items of value. “I co-wrote this legislation after it became clear how little information is available to the public in this area,” Grassley says. “Drug and medical device makers give billions of dollars to doctors but most of that happens behind the scenes.”

Grassley, a Republican, says his continued investigations and oversight have exposed several examples of how money is not disclosed in many cases where it should be. “There are doctors taking drug company money to study a drug, or taking federal grant money to study the same area,” Grassley says. “One doctor took drug company money to study a powerful anti-psychotic and recommended that drug more than it might seem scientifically-reasonable to do so.”

The patient who is prescribed a drug that might be beneficial yet risky will be able to learn whether the prescribing doctor accepted drug company money to study the risks. The information might not change the outcome, but it’s something a patient might like to know.

Doctors who take money from drug companies aren’t necessarily going to be negatively influenced, Grassley says, but this new database will shine a brighter spotlight on the situation through the Physician Payments Sunshine Act. “Doctors explain their reasoning and how their actions benefit patients,” Grassley says. “Transparency shouldn’t stop doctors from receiving the payments if they want to, but it should empower consumers to learn whether their doctors take payments, and if so, why, and whether that matters to the patient.”

Eventually, he says, the database will become a valuable resource for everyone with a stake in the country’s health care system. The information is being included in a public database maintained by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The address is: www.cms.gov/openpayments