New Study: Doctors Who Get Gifts from Pharmaceutical Companies Prescribe More Big-Name Drugs

Pharmaceutical Companies Who Provide Gifts to Doctors Are More Likely to Get Their Drugs Prescribed

drug brandsA new study is highlighting a long-lauded concern: when doctors are given gifts by pharmaceutical companies, they tend to give patients more “branded” drugs.  It’s been a theory of those who oppose big pharma’s growing influence on the medical community and now a new study out of Georgetown University Medical Center confirms just that, according to a new article in mmm-online.com.

Startling Numbers

According to the article, doctors participating in the Medicare D program, and accepting gifts from pharmaceutical companies, are prescribing more big-name drug brands.  7.8% of the doctors were more likely to prescribe a branded drug than those who had not received a gift.  According to mmm_online.com, 39% of the doctors in the study had received gifts from pharmaceutical companies.

It gets a bit more troubling as the article points out that the size of the gift from pharmaceutical companies correlated with how much they were prescribing.  Doctors receiving gifts of $550+ average $189 per prescription.  Doctors receiving less than $500 averaged $114.  Gifts could be defined as cash, meals, or ownership interests.

Growing Evidence

According to the article, researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center said their study “confirms and expands on previous work showing that industry gifts are associated with more expensive prescriptions and more branded prescriptions.” They added, “Industry gifts influence prescribing behavior, may have adverse public health implications, and should be banned.”

This latest research can be combined with a long list of evidence that confirm pharmaceutical companies’ gifts seem to influence what is prescribed to patients.  The article highlights another study from the 2017 American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting that said oncologists are also influenced by gifts.  In that study, researchers at the University of North Carolina found that oncologists who received compensation for meals, travel, lodging, speaking, or consulting were more likely to prescribe cancer drugs made by the pharmaceutical companies who were making the payments.

The article in mmm-online.com also showcases another study from 2016 that analyzed the Open Payments Data.  That research found that just a “gift of $20 resulted in higher prescribing rates for promoted brand name drugs.  This was mainly focusing on meals that were compensated, not other fees like consulting or travel.

Laws Often Ignored

In another article by The Pharmlot View, data indicates that in many cases well-meaning laws meant to tackle this very problem are being worked around or ignored.  A problem that is often highlighted seems to be that pharmaceutical companies are not required to report fees related to a medicine that may not yet be approved by the FDA.  The Pharmlot View article shines a light on how this practice is leading to the influence of physicians.

Consider the scenario laid out by the article:  a small company contacts a doctor about an up and coming drug not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration.  While that doctor may not drastically alter a course of treatment for patients now, they may be more likely to use the drug once it is approved by the FDA.  All the while, the pharmaceutical company need not report on the tactics it used to introduce that doctor to the drug in the first place.

Clearly, laws meant to curb this type of influence can be easily circumvented and as the article from mmm-online.com points out, even companies operating within the law are having some influence on physicians.

Jeffrey A. Newman represents whistleblowers: 1-800-682-7157