Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 32, Issue 11, pp 1186–1192 | Cite as

The Effects of Public Disclosure of Industry Payments to Physicians on Patient Trust: A Randomized Experiment

  • Alison R. Hwong
  • Sunita Sah
  • Lisa Soleymani Lehmann
Original Research



Financial ties between physicians and the pharmaceutical and medical device industry are common, but little is known about how patient trust is affected by these ties.


The purpose of this study was to evaluate how viewing online public disclosure of industry payments affects patients’ trust ratings for physicians, the medical profession, and the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.


This was a randomized experimental evaluation.


There were 278 English-speaking participants over age 18 who had seen a healthcare provider in the previous 12 months who took part in the study.


Participants searched for physicians on an online disclosure database, viewed payments from industry to the physicians, and assigned trust ratings. Participants were randomized to view physicians who received no payment ($0), low payment ($250–300), or high payment (>$13,000) from industry, or to a control arm in which they did not view the disclosure website. They also were asked to search for and then rate trust in their own physician.

Main Measures

Primary outcomes were trust in individual physician, medical profession, and industry. These scales measure trust as a composite of honesty, fidelity, competence, and global trust.

Key Results

Compared to physicians who received no payments, physicians who received payments over $13,000 received lower ratings for honesty [mean (SD): 3.36 (0.86) vs. 2.75 (0.95), p < 0.001] and fidelity [3.19 (0.65) vs. 2.89 (0.68), p = 0.01]. Among the 7.9% of participants who found their own physician on the website, ratings for honesty and fidelity decreased as the industry payment to the physician increased (honesty: Spearman’s ρ = −0.52, p = 0.02; fidelity: Spearman’s ρ = −0.55, p = 0.01). Viewing the disclosure website did not affect trust ratings for the medical profession or industry.


Disclosure of industry payments to physicians affected perceptions of individual physician honesty and fidelity, but not perceptions of competence. Disclosure did not affect trust ratings for the medical profession or the pharmaceutical and medical device industry. identifier: NCT02179632 (




The authors wish to thank Stuart Lipsitz, ScD, head of Biostatistical Services at the Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston, MA), for his help with statistical programming and analysis, and Martha Shumway, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, UCSF School of Medicine (San Francisco, CA), for statistical consultation. Neither contributor received compensation for their contributions.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


Financial support for this study was provided by the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital Department of Medicine. The funding agreement ensured the authors’ independence in designing the study, interpreting the data, and writing and publishing the report.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they do not have a conflict of interest. The content of this article is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not represent the official views of the Veterans Health Administration, the National Center for Ethics in Health Care, the U.S. government, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University and its affiliated academic healthcare centers, or the National Institutes of Health.

Supplementary material

11606_2017_4122_MOESM1_ESM.docx (129 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 129 kb)


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alison R. Hwong
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sunita Sah
    • 3
  • Lisa Soleymani Lehmann
    • 4
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of California, San FranciscoSan FranciscoUSA
  2. 2.Harvard PhD Program in Health Policy and Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  3. 3.Johnson Graduate School of ManagementCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  4. 4.Department of MedicineBrigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  5. 5.Department of Health Policy and ManagementHarvard T. H. Chan School of Public HealthBostonUSA
  6. 6.National Center for Ethics in Health CareVeterans Health AdministrationWashingtonUSA

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