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Pharma-sponsored free meals for physicians influence prescription of drugs: Study

There is a need to be extra careful while prescribing drugs to patients. While over-the-counter (OTC) drugs may have many benefits to offer, they do have some potential risks too. Before prescribing any kind of drug, factors like the patient’s needs and age must be taken into account.

Physicians are often accused of receiving favors from pharmaceutical companies in the form of extra payments for promoting their drugs instead of the cheaper alternatives. This scenario motivated a group of scientists to carry out a study to observe the link between industry-sponsored meals received by doctors and the rates at which the brand’s drugs were being prescribed to Medicare beneficiaries.

Physicians receiving free meals for prescribing specific brand drugs

For the study, titled “Pharmaceutical Industry–Sponsored Meals and Physician Prescribing Patterns for Medicare Beneficiaries,” the scientists evaluated industry payment data across various sections, from the federal Open Payments Program between August 1 and December 31, 2013 and the details obtained about prescriptions from physicians from the 2013 Medicare Part D Prescriber.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine in June 2016, found that physicians who receive meals from pharmaceutical companies are in a greater likelihood of advising medicines promoted by the latter in comparison to the cheaper version of generic drugs available in the market. The physicians who were observed during the study prescribed drugs in any of the four classes of statins, cardioselective β-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin-receptor blockers.

The doctors who had received industry-sponsored meals during promotion of the most prescribed drugs in each class were identified. Assessment of the details was done between August 20 and December 15, 2015. It was found that the doctors who had been provided only one meal, valued less than $20, were approximately two times more likely to dole out prescription of the promoted brand name drugs compared with those who had not received any meal.

Physicians who had received multiple meals were nearly three times more likely to make such prescriptions. Stressing on the findings, one of co-authors of the research Dr. Adams Dudley, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Healthcare Value at the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at University of California, San Francisco, said, “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. The meals may influence physicians’ prescribing decisions.”

According to the researchers, the existing trend in health care sector can be a reason behind the increased expenses for patient as brand-name drugs are not at all times covered by insurance companies. Colette DeJong, who worked in the study and a UCSF medical student said, “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.”

Besides, the study also re-established the findings of previous studies that linked payments and royalties made to doctors with higher rate of prescription of brand-name drugs.

Although the authors of the study do not stress on the cause and effect of the meal and branded drugs prescription, the observations indicated the need to improve upon existing practices executed for educating doctors about the new kinds of drugs in the market.

Being cautious is the key

There is a need to pay attention to the drugs being prescribed. While people are increasingly getting aware about the addictive nature of certain drugs, profit delivering schemes may drive doctors to overprescribe certain drugs which may result in aggravated feelings of prolonged dependence.

If you or your loved one is addicted to certain drugs containing opioids, you may get in touch with the 24/7 Recovery Helpline for information on the best drug rehab centers in America. You may call at our 24/7 helpline number (855) 441-4405 or chat online for expert advice on various drug abuse treatment centers.

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