A pair of studies from the Journal of the American Medical Association reveal that roughly half of all doctors receive payments from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. MedLinePlus details how the payments come from large corporations and can influence a doctor’s decision to prescribe brand name products instead of more affordable generics.
In 2015 alone, the total financial gifts amounted to more than $2 billion paid out to approximately 450,000 doctors. They included stock options, royalties, paid lectures, and general payments like food and drink.
Average favors tallied to roughly $200 per doctor. While that may seem like a relatively small amount, many doctors could be receiving thousands of dollars on behalf of medical companies looking to advance their products to increase profits. Dr. Adam Dudley, a pulmonologist and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, says that “it’s hard to imagine that isn’t influential” in what medications and devices that physicians eventually order for patients.
Many hospitals have implemented restrictions on the number of visits doctors can have from sales representatives, as well as how such meetings can be set up. These restrictions are associated with an eight percent decrease in brand name prescriptions. Ian Larkin, lead researcher of the JAMA studies and an assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, commented that the decrease is “a very substantial change.”
Certain companies value face time with doctors so much that they may have even been willing to break the law by sending salespeople into doctors’ offices while medical professionals met with their patients. While the meetings included in the JAMA studies weren’t necessarily illegal, hospitals looking to reduce their frequency did so out of concern over a perceived conflict of interest.
The pharmaceutical and medical device industries spend substantial resources marketing directly to doctors and using their deep pockets to assure the presence of their products isn’t a new strategy. The opioid lobby alone has spent more than eight times the gun lobby in the last ten years to influence government officials and push their agenda forward onto the American people.
Generic medications and devices can be 80-85 percent cheaper than brand name products. To combat high prescription costs, patients can ask their doctor if a certain drug is necessary to improve their health. They can also ask their pharmacist if a generic or alternative is available, which their doctor may not be aware of – or may not have been properly motivated enough to provide in the first place.