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New Study Highlights Link Between Doctor's Prescribing Habits and Drug Company Gifts

Doctors’ prescribing habits are often swayed by the gifts and other perks they receive from drug companies. According to a new study, physicians are more likely to prescribe brand-name drugs when they receive payments from pharmaceutical companies.

As we have previously discussed on this San Diego Injury Blog, doctors frequently receive payments, often in the form of meals, subsidies for continuing education, and speaking fees, from drug companies and medical device manufacturers. Given the potential for conflicts of interest, federal and state regulators have been working to improve transparency.

Pursuant to the Affordable Care Act, the United States created the Open Payments database in 2013. It requires drug and medical device makers to disclose any transfer of value to a physician that exceeds $10, which may include money, gifts, meals, and other perks bestowed upon physicians. In 2015, the data collected via the Open Payments system revealed that doctors and teaching hospitals received $6.5 billion from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries in 2014. Overall, 1,444 drug and device makers made payments to 607,000 individual physicians and 1,121 teaching hospitals.

In the recently published study, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston analyzed 2011 data from Medicare’s prescription drug program and Massachusetts’ payment reporting system. Not surprisingly, they found a link between the drug company payments and the doctors' prescribing patterns.

As Reuters reports, an estimated 37 percent of the 2,444 Massachusetts doctors in Medicare's prescribing database received payments from the pharmaceutical industry. An estimated 71 percent of doctors reported receiving meals paid for by drug companies, 51 percent reported receiving grants, 27 percent reported receiving other services, and 11 percent reported receiving educational training.

With regard to the impact on prescribing habits, the researchers specifically looked at statins, which are used to lower cholesterol. They found that each $1,000 of additional funds doctors received was tied to a 0.1 percent increase in the rate of brand name prescribing. As the researchers note, while a 0.1 percent increase may not seem significant, the financial ramifications for patients and the healthcare system can be substantial since brand name statins cost between two and four times more than their generic counterparts.

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.