Doctors receiving an industry-sponsored meal prescribe brand-name drugs at significantly higher rates to Medicare patients.
Not only is the way to our hearts through our stomach, but it is also the key to getting physicians to prescribe a brand-name drug to their Medicare patients, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Every pharmaceutical company—once their drug has made it through clinical trials and is available commercially—is eager to get their drugs into the hands of patients who could benefit from these medications. And what stands between these drugs and the patients? Their physicians.
Researchers investigated the likeliness for physicians to prescribe four on-patent drugs from four different drug classes (all of which are competing with generic medicines in the same class):
- AstraZeneca’s Crestor: Statins
- Forest Laboratories’ Bystolic: Beta blockers
- Daiichi Sankyo’s Benicar: ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers
- Pfizer’s Pristiq: SSRI and SNRI antidepressants
They pulled their data from the U.S. Open Payments database and matched it with Medicare Part D prescribing information on approximately 279,700 doctors. Rather than speaking fees or research payments, researchers focused on meals.
Researchers found that physicians who received industry-sponsored meals had an “increased rate of prescribing the brand-name medication that was being promoted.”
According to the study findings:
As compared with the receipt of no industry-sponsored meals, we found that receipt of a single industry-sponsored meal, with a mean value of less than $20, was associated with prescription of the promoted brand-name drug at significantly higher rates to Medicare beneficiaries. . . . Furthermore, the relationship was dose dependent, with additional meals and costlier meals associated with greater increases in prescribing of the promoted drug. Our findings were consistent across 4 brand-name drugs . . .
It is rather incredible to read the study results and note that a mean of 742.2 drugs were prescribed for physicians with full bellies (as compared with 470.1 prescriptions among those who didn’t receive meals).
Researchers also found that the pricier the meal, the greater the prescription of drugs. That is, for all except Pfizer’s Pristiq.
Other studies have “analyzed script numbers for doctors receiving pharma payments—and found that higher payments are linked to bigger script numbers—but this is the first to zero in on meals,” according to a report on Fierce Pharma.
Regardless of whether or not you plan to treat your circle of physician friends to a nice meal when your drug is given the stamp of approval, researchers and industry experts are calling for a new transparency effort to combat this partiality.
According to JAMA Internal Medicine:
Our findings support the importance of ongoing transparency efforts in the United States and Europe. Although voluntary guidelines from the American Medical Association and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America allow meals and gifts to physicians of up to $100 in value, our findings indicate that even payments of less than $20 are associated with different prescribing patterns. Small payments and meals should continue to be monitored in the United States and should be incorporated into the European pharmaceutical industry’s recent transparency initiative, which requires drug companies to publicly report payments to physicians with the exception of food and drinks.