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Financial Connection Between Docs and Pharmaceutical Companies Stronger than Ever

Pills and moneyThe Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have released data that demonstrates the cozy relationship between doctors and drug and device companies.  In 2016, drug and medical device companies spent $8.18 billion on doctors-lavishing them with travel, research, gifts, speaking fees, meals, and ownership or investment interest.  These gifts are generally not known by the public and should cause concern about the vast influence these industries hold over physicians.

The latest data release comes on the heels of a study earlier this year that found that about 65 percent of patients in the United States visited a doctor who received payments from drug companies, although most have no idea about the payments.

“These findings tell us that if you thought that your doctor was not receiving any money from industry, you’re most likely mistaken,” said study author Genevieve Pham-Kantor, an assistant professor at Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “Patients should be aware of the incentives that their physicians face that may lead them to not always act in their patients’ best interest. And the more informed patients are about their providers and options for care, the better decisions they can make.”

This financial influence can play an important if not ethnically questionable role in patient care.  Certain specialists were more likely to receive payments than others, according to the study, which found that 85 percent of patients who visited an orthopedic surgeon saw a doctor who had received a payment, while 77 percent of those who saw an obstetrician or gynecologist saw a doctor who had received a payment.

Thanks in large part to certain provisions in the Affordable Care Act, this financial data demonstrating the relationship between doctors and pharmaceutical and medical device companies is available to the public.  However, repeal of the ACA may jeopardize this transparency.

“Drug companies have long known that even small gifts to physicians can be influential, and research validates the notion that they tend to induce feelings of reciprocity,” said study co-author Michelle Mello of Stanford.

In fact, a 2016 study found exactly that. Researchers at the University of California found that doctors who had received a free meal valued at less than $20 from a company promoting a particular drug had significantly higher rates of prescribing that drug as compared to other drugs in the same class. Doctors who had received free meals from pharma companies were up to twice as likely to promote the name-brand drug as doctors who had not. And doctors who had received multiple meals were as much as three times as likely to prescribe the name brand drug.

We already know that academic research concerning the efficacy of pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices has been questioned due to murky financial relationships.  When a doctor treating patients has an unknown or hidden relationship with a drug company or a medical device company, it’s all the more dangerous.


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