Long gone are the days when drug reps enticed physicians with extravagant meals at five-star restaurants and box seats to the Phillies’ playoffs (and sadly, gone are the days when the Phillies actually made the playoffs).
According to a recent study published in the journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, physicians who are provided a meal for less than $20 from drug reps are more inclined to prescribe that rep’s name-brand drug, which is not always covered by insurance, over the less pricy bioequivalent generic.
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, the University of Hawaii, and the Pacific Health Research and Education Institute examined data from 280,000 physicians in Medicare’s prescription drug program from August through December 2013. Four top-selling name-brand drugs were considered: Benicar and Bystolic, both of which are used to treat high blood pressure, Pristiq, used to treat depression, and Crestor, used to treat high cholesterol.
The study revealed that doctors who received a meal linked to Benicar and Bystolic promotion were 70% and 52%, respectively, more likely to choose the name-brand than those doctors who did not receive a free meal. Those who received a meal linked to Pristiq were 118% more likely to prescribe Pristiq, and Crestor was linked to an 18% prescribing increase over the bioequivalent generic Lipitor.
Further, an alarming $73 billion per year is spent on name-brand drugs for which there is an equally effective generic, with patients themselves spending $24 billion of that amount.
Dr. Adams Dudley, the study’s lead author, remarked, “Doctors are human, and humans respond to gifts.”
Forgive me for being a skeptic, but isn’t it also quite possible that the sales pitch given during the meal was what actually influenced physicians’ prescribing habits? Call it naiveté, but let’s hope it takes more than a measly slice of pizza to buy our healthcare providers’ loyalties.
–Alexandra L. Sobol, Esq.
(Click here to view Ms. Sobol’s biography)