Shocking: Free meals sway doctors into deciding what drugs you get prescribed

The study found doctors were two or three times more likely to prescribe branded drugs if offered free or cheap meals by drug sales representatives.

A recent study has found doctors who receive free or cheap meals from pharmaceutical sales representatives are twice as likely to prescribe their branded drugs to patients than those who received nothing.

The study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine by researchers from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), found the marketing strategies of sales representatives swayed doctors in various ways but meals were a common factor.

“Whether a formal dinner or a brief lunch in a doctor’s office, these encounters are an opportunity for drug company representatives to discuss products with physicians and their staff,” said Adams Dudley, senior study author from UCSF’s Center for Healthcare Value. “The meals may influence physicians’ prescribing decisions.”

The study involved analyzing data from 280,000 physicians who received payment for four well known drugs used in blood pressure, depression and high cholesterol. They found the majority of payouts were in the form of a cheap $20 meal.

According to SFGate, the researchers found doctors who promoted hypertension drug Allergan’s Bystolic after receiving four or more meals were 5.4 times more likely to do so than those doctors receiving nothing at all.

Previous studies have shown patients who are prescribed brand named drugs are less likely to stay on the full course or renew a prescription due to the cost with the opposite found for cheaper alternatives. This not only affects the patients themselves but the healthcare system itself.

“A lot of the financial burden of using brand name drugs instead of generic drugs falls on the seniors enrolled in Medicare, who pay an average monthly co-pay of $40 to $80 for brand name drugs, but only $1 for generics,” said Colette DeJong who was involved in the study.

The authors of the study says the research shows more education is needed for doctors on the development of drugs and in doing so could save on insurance costs.

“Our data raises questions about current practices, but it’s also worth noting that there is not yet a standardized way to get drug information out to doctors,” Dudley said. “The FDA, Medicare, or insurers could set up alternative means of educating doctors about drug developments, but they haven’t done that yet. Given how much extra money they are spending on brand-name drugs, either Medicare or insurers would certainly see plenty of savings even if they were to pay the full cost of an educational program about when and how to use new drugs.”

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