Is your doctor too cozy with Big Pharma?

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Consumers, in a turn of the tables, have given their doctors a checkup and the diagnosis looks pretty grim. They think doctors are too cozy with Big Pharma, according to the 2nd annual prescription drug survey conducted by Consumer Reports National Research Center.

This survey of adults who currently take a prescription drug found that the vast majority object to the payments and rewards pharmaceutical companies routinely dole out to doctors because they feel these are negatively influencing how they treat patients. Other findings include:    

  • More than two-thirds, or 69%, of consumers surveyed said they think drugmakers have too much influence on doctors’ decisions about which drug to prescribe.
  • Half of those polled said they feel doctors are too eager to prescribe a drug rather than consider alternate methods of managing a condition.
  • 47% said they think gifts from drug companies influence doctorsto prescribe certain drugs
  • 41% think doctors tend to prescribe newer, more expensive drugs.
  • A whopping 81% said they are concerned about the rewards drugmakers give to doctors who write a lot of prescriptions for a company’s drugs.
  • 72%were displeased with payments pharmaceutical companies give to doctors for testimonials or for serving as a company spokesperson for a given drug.
  • 61% of consumers voiced concern about pharmaceutical companies paying doctors to speak at industry conferences.
  • 58% were concerned by big drug companies buying meals for doctors and their staffs.

We have good reason to be concerned.  Dr. John Santa, former medical director of the Drug Effectiveness Review Project in Oregon, explained the pervasive influence of drug companies on the lives of physicians in a Consumer Reports Health interview:

“Doctors deny it, but the evidence is clear that these financial relationships lead to significant increases in prescribing and sales. If they didn’t, the drug companies wouldn’t spend an estimated $20 billion a year on them. You get invited to dinner at a nice restaurant for a “medical education” speech, and at the end of the night are handed an envelope with $100 cash inside. Or you participate in “research” that drug companies farm out to doctor’s offices. You don’t have to do anything except follow their protocol, and they’ll pay you $300 or $400 for every patient you put in the study.”

The billions paid to doctors by pharmaceutical companies are well worth it for helping to market their drugs. Here are some examples of how just a visit from an industry drug rep to your family doctor influences which drugs will be prescribed. 

  • Favourable change in a doctor’s prescribing habits after spending less than one minute with a sales rep:  ↑16%
  • Prescribing change seen after three minutes with a sales rep:  ↑52%

For more on this, read Drug Marketing By The Numbers on The Ethical Nag: Marketing Ethics for the Easily Swayed .

Dr. Santa described his own experience after agreeing to participate on a drug company’s ”advisory committee” whose sole purpose was to promote the company’s new drug for dementia.

“The company flew my wife and me to Vail, Colorado during spring break and put us up in the best hotel. We got wined and dined, and all amenities were paid for by the company. But I left feeling compromised and decided I was never going to do that again, and I haven’t. Drug companies should not be allowed to give gifts to practitioners, which just adds to already inflated drug costs.”

Find out more from Consumer Reports Health.  See also:

Or for more articles on how Big Pharma marketing strategies like those listed above can actually influence your health care, visit The Ethical Nag: Marketing Ethics For the Easily Swayed

Do you have concerns about the cozy relationship between Big Pharma and the medical profession?

2 thoughts on “Is your doctor too cozy with Big Pharma?

  1. Hello,

    “Half of those polled said they feel doctors are too eager to prescribe a drug rather than consider alternate methods of managing a condition.”

    This is very true for my doctors. They hve the prescription pad ready on the desk just waiting to be filled in bfore I even finish my sentence. And they are generally dismissive if I ask about complementary medical options.

    Thank you – I really like your blog.


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