Poll: Do gifts from pharmaceutical companies influence how physicians prescribe?

As if January 1st of this year, drug companies have voluntarily agreed to stop providing branded gifts to physicians.

Do gifts from pharmaceutical companies influence how physicians prescribe?

Trust in the pharmaceutical industry is at an all-time low. Numerous reports have described lavish events at which the latest, most expensive medications are marketed to doctors. and there is suspicion that clinical studies backed by drug companies have been biased towards brand name medications. The gift ban is a clear attempt at damage control before the incoming Obama administration’s scrutiny.

Some see medication-branded office supplies as harmless, and are offended by the idea that doctors are actually influenced by pens and notebooks. But the numbers say otherwise. Promotional products are a $19 billion industry, and Big Pharma would not spend that kind of money if it didn’t pay off.

And still left uncapped – the speaking fees that doctors receive from drug companies – and the money the pharmaceutical industry spends to fund continuing medical education. Furthermore, physicians’ offices will still receive free medication samples, making it easier to start unsuspecting patients on expensive trials of branded drugs.

Until these issues are addressed, the drug industry will maintain significant influence over physicians’ prescribing patterns.

If I didn’t cover your issue, you can add it in the comments, or call into the ReachMD Listener Line at 888-639-6157 and record your comments (portions of which may air).

I encourage you to listen and vote in this week’s poll, located in the upper right column of the blog.

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  • Marilyn Mann

    Of course they do.

  • Xerxes1729

    Why would they spend so much money detailing physicians if it didn’t work? Marketers may be sleazy, but they aren’t stupid.

  • eddie

    a common logical flaw, 19 billion in marketing is not going to pens and note pads. the majority of that is going to drug samples, educational programs, CEUs, TV ads. Pens and note pads probably get the least funding though they often get the most attention when discussion budget lines.

  • kath8562

    Of course it does. They have to buy their own pens to write prescriptions now!

  • Anonymous

    If my colleagues are influenced to the detriment of a patient because of some crappy pen then why are they trusted with a script pad at all?

  • Anonymous

    Wow the vote is 53% to 47%, in favor. That’s just sad.

    If people really thought about this for more than two seconds, I’d hope it would be closer to 80-90% in favor.

    Those 47%: You really mean to tell me that you don’t think there is anything sleezy/sneaky about pharmaceutical company representatives giving doctors “Gifts” for “no reason”?

    Let me say that again. You actually think that these representatives get paid to give gifts to doctor…for no reason then to just be nice?

    I mean, does that make ANY sense?

    Obviously the point is they do it BECAUSE it influences the doctors. Whether consciously or not. Maybe you think doctors are 100% ethical. (Which they are not – do you think priests are 100% ethical? Teachers? Everybody is human, everyone makes mistakes, everyone is susceptible to greed, etc.) But let’s go with that for a second.

    Even if the doctor was the most ethical person in the world, you really think that they have the ability to not be affected by subconscience repeated exposure to a brand name (e.g. using a pen that says Adderall, a script that says Lunesta, etc.)

    If you see the same thing, day in day out, do you not subconsciously get used to it? Think about it more?

    So the next time the doctor is prescribing, he is more likely to remember the drug that’s on his jacket coat than another drug with the same efficacy.

    These are all very simple, logical, explainable points…that apparently almost HALF don’t understand.

    Oh and PS. You think they only get pens? They get vacations to seminars…in Hawaii. There are way more perks than just the pens. Look into it before you just say “No, I think gift giving is nice! Who cares about morals.”

  • Rogue Medic

    Advertising works on human beings. Unless doctors are suggesting that, as a group, they are inhuman, there is no reason to believe that they will not be influenced by advertising. Everybody else is. Lawyers, politicians, . . . .

  • Anonymous

    A seminar in Hawaii? Cool–where can I get one of those? To think I sold my soul for a pen…I should have held out for better.

  • kbsrn

    ALL medications come out as Name Brand. When the patent runs out, then multiple companies can sell it as a “generic”. Newer medicines are usually better with longer acting action (once a day vs. 2-4 times a day), less side effects and more specific in treating a certain condition. This improves patient care and compliancy which lowers health costs.

    New meds are expensive because research is so costly. Studies must be performed for years. And if you don’t think this is necessary, look at all the ads in the papers and on TV from lawyers wanting to make money if a problem develops with a medication!

    I’m waiting for Wash D.C. to get rid of the lobbyists so that our elected representatives will listen to what we say. They are getting expensive trips (Doctors lost those years ago BTW), dinners, call girls and other perks to vote the way lobbyists want.

  • Rural PCP

    It is a common marketing ploy yes I agree. But they are trying to recap investment in developing the drug. Is that all so bad? Drug reps I see recently cannot even give out pens or cheap little note pads, but I can get them at the bank or sandwich shop. It is just a common marketing strategy and in a free society should be allowed. Physicians are contrary to popular belief of our politicians, insurance companies, medicare, medicaide… intelligent people. They can and do decide for themselves what they do and do not prescribe and are not likely to be easily swayed because of a freebie. If they are they should not be practicing. In the same vein. Should we not eliminate free food samples at grocery stores that contain high fat or sodium. They can influence high LDL and HTN and lead to strokes and heart attacks.

  • j.

    Let me put it this way, if you worked for an electronic distributing company and Sony came to your office and passed out pens and post-it notes with “Sony” on them or they gave you a $50 book on how to be a better at Sales would that influence you into selling “Sony” over the customizable Toshiba product that is better suited for your particular client? The answer is absolutely not!!! Your goal as the salesperson is to build long-term satisfaction for your individual client and you know that if the client found out that you pushed a particular brand that is not as well suited for them they would no longer buy from you.

    The same for any ethical physician, no physician worth their salt would compromise dr/pt relationship, or prescribe something to patients that they know is not as effective.
    ~~~Why else do they have their staff spend the time to get prior authorization with health insurance companies for prescriptions that are not on their “formulary”?

    That begs the question, why are certain drugs on formularies that are proven to be not as effective in the overall population than a lesser effective drug????

    The true “ethics” question here is what is the relationship between big Pharma and the health insurance industry who do receive a lot more than pens and sticky notes in “kickbacks” from big Pharma for their drugs to be put on the inusruance formulary.

  • j.

    Correction to third paragraph: That begs the question, why are certain drugs on formualries that are proven to be not as effective in the overall population than a MORE effective drug?

  • Rural PCP

    Good point above but we all know the reason inferior drugs are formulary on certain insurance plans. Either to save the insurance company from having to shell out the money that it has taken from customers in the form of “premiums” or that the drug company and the insurance company are in some agreement that if you give me so much discount for your drug I will put it on out formulary or the drug company offering so much of a discount to get it placed on a formulary of a certain insurance company. Common business tactics. The only profession that is governmentally mandated and prohibited from carrying out a business as all other businesses commonly do is…Medicine! Physicians are so worried about socialized medicine when it has been slowly sneaking up on us for years as medicare, medicaide, ICD-9, CPT, JACO, etc. Funny.

  • j.

    Drug rep at office today and I brought the subject up to him. He laughed at how rediculous the assumption that pens and sticky notes would influence a person with a Doctorate in Medicine. He then said that it should be made public what Pharmacists at Walgreens were being paid to change doctor’s prescriptions from what was written to a generic.

    Generic drugs can vary 20% from the brand name per FDA guidelines. So in reality generic drugs can be 20% less effective than a brand name drug which may be the reason for persons with doctorates of medicine prescribing of a brand name over a generic, nothing to do with the name on a pen or sticky note. We have seen this in our patients more with psychotrophics/sleep aids.

  • j.

    To Rual Doc, I agree with what you say, and because physicians are so busy doing unreimbursed work the other entities that surround healthcare including trial lawyers, they neither have the time or money to influence policy. Some of the very worst laws are those by Pete Stark, legislator from California (Stark Laws) that restrict a small physicians from everything from having the cardiologist next door overread an a PCPs EKG unless the PCP pays for it, (as it may leave the impression that you would only refer to that cardiologist-but large institutions such as Mayo or Cleveland clinic do this without reprisal) to the law that physicians cannot share with each other what they are being paid, (but health insurance companies can share with each other what they pay physicians).