According to a new study, doctors who were provided even a single meal on the tab of a drug company were more likely to prescribe that company’s product over the lower-cost generic version, and the more expensive the meal, the more likely it becomes you will receive a prescription for the higher-costing brand name drug.
The study authors were quick to point out that their findings did not prove free meals given to physicians caused them to prescribe the brand name drugs, but it found a striking correlation between meals provided by sales representatives of a certain drug and the chances of it being prescribed.
According to the Washington Post, Jerry Avorn, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said the new findings were an improvement over previous studies looking at a correlation, in that the new study was more focused on doctors prescribing particular drugs after receiving free lunches or dinners. Avorn, who was not involved in the study, believes the free meals are having an effect on the physicians.
Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco poured over the prescription records of almost 280,000 doctors with Medicare patients, looking specifically at their prescribing practices. They compared the information found on four commonly prescribed drugs in which a brand name version was being promoted that also had competition from a cheaper version of the drug. The research team used a federal database that contains records, including meals, speaking fees and other financial arrangements, between the doctors and the drug companies.
An example was the drug Crestor, a statin drug, used in the treatment of high cholesterol, and a similar drug that research shows works as well, Lipitor, which has a cheap generic version. The findings show that doctors who were received a meal at the expense of the drug company prescribed Crestor 1.8 times as frequently as the doctors who did not receive any company-paid meals.
A similar finding was noted for the drug, Bystolic, used in treatment for high blood pressure, in that those receiving meals prescribed the brand name at twice the rate of those who did not receive free meals.
Representatives from the drug companies downplayed the findings, saying the exchange of information between drug company representatives and doctors at meetings and dinners may impact the physicians prescribing decision when making an effort to give their patients the very best care.
Findings from the study were published in the JAMA Internal Medicine.