- Doctors who received meals from pharmaceutical companies more often prescribed promoted drugs, even though the meals cost less than $20 on average, a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found.
- In the study, researchers analyzed over 63,000 payments made to nearly 280,000 physicians in connection with four common drugs. Ninety-five percent of the payments came in the form of meals.
- A number of studies have looked at the relationship between industry payments and prescribing behavior, with some finding a connection between the two. The pharmaceutical industry has countered that companies promotional efforts help educate doctors about new drugs.
The researchers gathered data on industry payments from the federal Open Payments Program, which was set up in 2014 under the Sunshine Act. They then linked that data with prescribing information for individual physicians from Medicare Part D for all of 2013.
Data on industry payments only covered August 1, 2013 through December 31, 2013, however.
In order to narrow the focus, the researchers created four study groups with each containing physicians who wrote more than 20 filled prescriptions for the leading branded drugs among statins, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and a class of antidepressants.
The four drugs were AstraZeneca's Crestor (statin), Forest Lab's Bystolic (beta-blocker), Daiichi Sankyo's Benicar (ACE), and Pfizer's Pristiq (serotonin inhibitor).
Among the 63,524 payments in the dataset, 95% were payments for meals, with an average value of $12 to $18 per meal. Physicians who received meals had a greater "mean prescribing volume" than those who did not across all four of the study groups. Results were statistically significant.
The researchers, however, were careful to note that their findings represent an association, rather than clear cause-and-effect relationship between payments and prescribing.
Industry guidelines from PhRMA, the main pharmaceutical trade association, allow for meals with a value below $20, but the study results suggest even these low-value meals could have an influence on physicians.