Compliance with the Sunshine Act: There’s an app for that


By Stephen Stone, MD

As the famous Apple saying goes, if there’s something you need to do online, there’s probably an app for that. This is certainly true as we gear up for implementation of the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, also known as CMS’s Open Payments program.

You might remember hearing about the Open Payments program last summer because as of August 2013, industry is required to track and report all the payments they have made to physicians and teaching hospitals. To ensure accurate reporting, all physicians should keep a list of the payments they received and the companies from which they received them, as well as details about services rendered.

To facilitate this information-tracking effort, CMS developed a free app that physicians can use to record their payment information on their mobile devices. (Information about how to download the app on Android and Apple devices is available here.)

Be sure to take a look at the amounts that are being attributed to your name and the description or characterization of those amounts.

Starting this month, you should register with CMS so you can review the payment data that are being reported about you for accuracy. You’ll want to register and take a look at this now because in April, all physicians will have a 45-day period in which to review the data and dispute any inaccuracies before it goes public. You also should verify your information in the National Plan and Provider Enumeration System (NPPES) to ensure you are being identified correctly. 

Once the Open Payments program is up and running in September, CMS is supposed to notify you when you’re mentioned in any of their reports. However, I would advise you to check the site periodically to see if something slipped through. You might not be accepting payments or a form of compensation directly, but you may find your name on the Open Payments site if your office staff or non-physician clinicians (NPCs) are reporting under your name.

                Open payments app rv The Open Payments app is easy to download on your Apple or Android device, and it helps you log information about compensation you receive throughout the year.

For example, if someone on your office staff is receiving lunch once a month from a pharmaceutical representative and the value of that lunch is $10, over the course of the year that can add up to more than $100, which is required to be reported through the Open Payments program. Be sure to take a look at the amounts that are being attributed to your name and the description or characterization of those amounts.

For example, I conduct clinical studies and would hate to see that mischaracterized. It would be easy for someone to report a consulting fee and have it show up as an honorarium. Because I work in an academic setting, I have more restrictions on the kind of work I am able to participate in outside of the university, but for those of you in private practice, there potentially could be more of a perception issue depending on the kind of work you do.

Even if everything you do is ethical, another potential concern is patients’ perception that there might be a conflict of interest. This has only happened to me once in my career, but I had one patient who said to me, “You consulted for this company and now you’re prescribing their drugs.” I practice as ethically as I can, and sometimes patients may come to this conclusion no matter what kind of information is out there. But it’s better to know what CMS is reporting about you so you can be prepared instead of caught off guard.

Remember, once the CMS Open Payments site is fully operational in September 2014, you will have 45 days from when the payment information is posted to account to review it before it becomes public. Make a note to check your information every two or three months. If you find a mistake or inaccuracy and notify CMS, they have 15 days to correct the error.

Take my advice and register to review your information. If you have a smartphone or tablet, make it easy on yourself and download the app. I have an Android device and I downloaded the app recently. I found it helpful and easy to use. You can even generate a QR code to transfer information to another user’s device, including another physician’s profile, industry representative’s profile, and details about the payment to make it easier to keep everything straight.

Regardless of how you’re keeping track of payments, be sure to check out the Open Payments site to see what’s being reported about you.

Stephen P. Stone, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist, professor of dermatology, and director of clinical research at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

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Note: The Open Payments app is for personal information collection and serves as an information repository; it does not interact with CMS systems or CMS contractors, and it cannot be used to directly report data to CMS or its contractors.

Open Payments reporting timeline 
Data collection began. Aug. 1, 2013 
Participants can sign up for CMS’s Open Payments website.  January 2014 
Data from pharmaceutical companies from August 2013 to December 2013 is due to CMS.  March 31, 2014 
CMS to make data public.  Sept. 30, 2014 

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