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Study: Doctors, Costly Prescriptions Link To Free Meals

A new study suggests that doctors who are treated to free meals by drug companies are more likely to prescribe expensive, brand-name medications for common illnesses.

The study, published by JAMA Internal Medicine on June 20, said that 279, 669 physicians got 63, 524 "payments" that were linked to four medications between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31, 2013.

What's more, 95 percent of these "payments" were meals that cost less than $20. These doctors had higher rates of prescribing Rosuvastatin (high cholesterol), Nebivolol (blood pressure, cardio issues), Olmesartan (high blood pressure) and Desvenlafaxine (major depressive disorder) than their cheaper counterparts.

If the medical providers were treated to meals that cost more than $20, there was a higher prescribing rate. The study stresses that the results show an "association, not a cause-and-effect relationship." In other words, the study cannot prove the doctors were being bribed.

ProPublica reported in March that doctors who received payments (money and/or meals) from the drug industry and medical device makers tended to prescribe more brand-name medications than doctors who didn't accept the payments.

The news site analyzed payment data from drug companies and medical device makers, and doctors' drug choices in the Medicare prescription drug program in 2014.

Doctors who accepted payments were found to be "two to three times as likely to prescribe brand-name drugs at exceptionally high rates as others in their specialty," according to ProPublica.

Like the study in JAMA Internal Medicine, ProPublica's study didn't prove the doctors were bribed, but it did show a link between a higher rate of prescribing and the payments, which ultimately helped the drug companies.

Another study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in May found that drug company payments to doctors in Massachusetts were linked to high rates of prescriptions for brand-name drugs to fight high cholesterol in 2011, reported ProPublica.

That study was conducted by Harvard Medical School researchers.

Dr. James S. Yeh, the lead researcher, said, "You want your doctors to be objective rather than doing something because there is a financial gain, be it subconscious or conscious. That’s not the way we should be doing medicine."

Sources: JAMA Internal Medicine, ProPublica (2) / Photo credit: Clever Cupcakes/Flickr

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