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Free Meals from Drugmakers Influence Doctor's Prescribing Habits

A new study confirms that just one free meal from a pharmaceutical company can influence a doctor’s prescribing habits. Researchers found that physicians were more likely to prescribe the drugmaker’s brand name medication, even when less expensive generics would provide the same benefits.

As we have previously discussed on this San Diego Injury Blog, conflicts of interest in the medical industry are a growing concern. A new federal database used to track payments made to physicians by pharmaceutical and medical device companies revealed that 4.3 million industry payments totaling $3.4 billion were made to more than 470 000 physicians and 1,000 teaching hospitals in the last 5 months of 2013.

In the latest study, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco compared pharmaceutical payment data from late 2013 and prescribing data for the same period from doctors treating Medicare patients with four common drugs for heart conditions or depression. As Reuters reports, the brand name drugs analyzed in the study have been widely determined to be no better than their generic counterparts.

In total, nearly 280,000 doctors received more than 60,000 payments associated with the four target drugs. Sponsored meals, on average less than $20 each, accounted for 95 percent of the payments.

The study, which was published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found a strong association between industry payments to physicians and prescribing rates of the brand-name medications. Physicians who received a single meal promoting the drug of interest had higher rates of prescribing it. In addition, the receipt of additional meals and receipt of meals costing more than $20 were associated with higher relative prescribing rates.

“We should be advocating for drug and device manufacturers to spend less on promoting their products and more on independent bona fide research on safety, effectiveness and affordability,” said Dr. Robert Steinbrook, an editor at JAMA Internal Medicine and a professor at Yale University School of Medicine.

If you or someone you care about has suffered serious harm due to a dangerous or defective drug or medical device, don’t hesitate to contact a San Diego injury lawyer at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation. Our legal team has successfully represented clients against manufacturers and distributors of medical devices for more than 30 years.