It's become so much of a standard that it's just assumed:  your doctor is at the receiving end of "leverage" from drug manufacturers to prescribe their medications.  And whether they receive pens and Sticky Notes with the pill's brand name on them or they receive a cash payment, the end result is that someone from the drug manufacturer has "marketed" those medications to your doctor so that they would be "aware" of the drug and be able to prescribe it to you.

A movement is now afoot to make those relationships and interactions transparent.

To head off medical conflicts of interest, the Obama administration is poised to require drug companies to disclose the payments they make to doctors for research, consulting, speaking, travel and entertainment.

So if the practice has been in place for decades and everyone knows about it - what could be the harm?

Many researchers have found evidence that such payments can influence doctors’ treatment decisions and contribute to higher costs by encouraging the use of more expensive drugs and medical devices.

Consumer advocates and members of Congress say patients may benefit from the new standards, being issued by the government under the new health care law. Officials said the disclosures increased the likelihood that doctors would make decisions in the best interests of patients, without regard to the doctors’ financial interests.

When can consumers expect to see changes?

The new requirements, or something very similar, will take effect soon; in fact, they are overdue. Under the new health care law, the administration was supposed to establish payment-reporting procedures by Oct. 1, 2011. The public will have until Feb. 17 to comment on the proposals, which are broadly consistent with the expectations of industry and consumer groups. After considering the comments, Medicare officials will issue final rules with the force of law.