Despite a series of technical problems and data disparities leading up to the launch, CMS met its schedule to release the first round of “Open Payments” data on September 30, 2014. Note that initial use of the database of financial payments made by drug and device manufacturers and group purchasing organization to physicians and teaching hospitals has been hampered by large file sizes, multiple databases, and confusing instructions. CMS has stated that it plans to launch a more user-friendly search tool later this month.

The first wave of data details 4.4 million payments valued at nearly $3.5 billion attributable to 546,000 individual physicians and almost 1,360 teaching hospitals during the last five months of 2013 (future annual updates will include 12 months of data). Because CMS identified payment records that appeared to have inconsistent physician information (e.g. a National Provider Identifier for one doctor and a license number for another) that could not be matched, CMS has temporarily “suppressed” the personally-identifiable information for those records. In fact, CMS estimates that about 40% of the records published initially are de-identified, and additional disputed data was not published, which could skew initial attempts to draw conclusions about payment patterns. CMS cautions that financial ties between manufacturers and providers “do not necessarily signal wrongdoing” or conflicts of interest, given that some relationships may lead to the development of beneficial new technologies and therapies. CMS encourages patients to discuss these financial relationships with their health care providers.