Financial Payments From Drug Industry Associated With Increased Physician Prescribing

A systematic review of published research found that financial payments from the drug industry to U.S. physicians was associated with increased prescribing of the paying drug company’s drug. The association was consistent across all studies and several studies presented evidence that the association was not correlation, but causation, meaning the industry gifts caused physicians to prescribe differently. The findings are published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Financial payments from the drug industry to physicians is common and an issue of concern. Payments include both cash (typically for consulting services or invited lectures) and in-kind gifts, such as meals. From 2015 to 2017, 67% of all U.S. physicians received payments. This proportion exceeded 80% in some specialties (medical oncology, orthopedic surgery, urology, and others), and in many specialties the dollar value of personal payments has increased in recent years.

Researchers from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center reviewed 36 published studies comprising 101 analysis to evaluate whether receipt of payments from the drug industry is associated with physician prescribing practices. The researchers found that the literature was unanimous. Literally every study found an association between gifts and prescribing and the association was present among all specialties and drug types, including cancer drugs and opioids. According to the researchers, these results suggest that personal payments from industry reduce physicians’ ability to make independent therapeutic decisions and that they may be harmful to patients. They recommend that the medical community change its historical opposition to reform and call for an end to such payments.

Reference: 23 November 2020, Annals of Internal Medicine.
DOI: 10.7326/M20-5665

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