Study: Drug Companies Can Persuade Doctors With Free Meal

A new study shows that doctors are more likely to listen to a drug company's sales pitch if there is a free lunch involved.

According to the study, doctors who received just a single free meal were much more likely to prescribe the brand name medications pitched by a drug company official. The free lunches usually only range between $12 to $18, The New York Times reports. Yet they appear to be enough to convince doctors to prescribe an expensive brand name medication to patients over a just as effective and cheaper generic one.

The study, published in Journal of the American Medical Association's JAMA Internal Medicine in June, analyzed over 279,000 doctors who received over 63,000 payments of some kind from a drug company -- usually free meals. This study corroborates past complaints that drug companies were buying a physician's loyalty with gifts, promotional items and even paid vacations to luxury resorts, NBC reports.

However, this recent study makes it clear that a luxury vacation isn't even necessary to convince doctors to prescribe a company's expensive products.

"Although voluntary guidelines from the American Medical Association and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America allow meals and gifts to physicians of up to $100 in value, our findings indicate that even payments of less than $20 are associated with different prescribing patterns," the study's researchers wrote, according to NBC.

 Dr. R. Adams Dudley, senior author of the study and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said the information provided at these free lunches only serves the commercial interest of the drug company and does little to help patients in need of cost-effective medication.

"Why is this our system of education for doctors?" he asked, The New York Times reports. "The cost of an alternative system of drug education would be paltry."

According to NBC, Dr. Robert Steinbrook, JAMA Internal Medicine's editor-at-large, writes that "[i]f drug and device manufacturers were to stop sending money to physicians for promotional speaking, meals and other activities without clear medical justifications and invest more in independent bona fide research on safety, effectiveness and affordability, our patients and the health care system would be better off."

Sources: The New York Times, NBC / Photo Credit: Charles Williams/Flickr

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