Nurse practitioners and their relationships with pharma

Doctors have been under significant scrutiny over the years regarding their relationships with pharmaceutical companies.

Some states have even gone as far as banning events like drug company-sponsored dinners and other pharma-funded educational events. An increasing number of medical schools and hospitals simply won’t allow an industry presence.

Whether you think it’s gone too far is certainly debatable, but let’s look at another group which can prescribe medications and examine their relationship with the drug industry.

I’m talking about nurse practitioners.

There’s little question that, with the physician shortage, nurse practitioners and physician assistants will be relied upon to provide more patient care. Like doctors, they also have prescribing authority. And pharmaceutical companies have taken notice.

From the WSJ’s Health Blog, a study found the following interesting findings about nurse practitioner attitudes towards industry:

A full 96% said they have regular contact with pharma-industry reps, and 83% said the information they received was reliable. Almost everyone (96%) said they’d attended CME courses sponsored by industry, with 91% saying the information they received there was at least somewhat reliable.

Most (66%) reported giving out drug samples, said they were at least somewhat helpful in learning about new meds (73%) and acknowledged that samples encourage the prescription of new branded (and heavily marketed) drugs (62%).

As for the free meals, 49% reported attending lunch events in the past 6 months, and 64% said the same about dinner events. And 48% said they were then more likely to prescribe one of the drugs featured at these events. Almost all (90%) said it was acceptable to attend these sponsored meals and 75% said it was fine for a speaker appearing there to be paid by a pharma company. Most (61%) said it was fine for practices to accept small gifties and free meals from pharma companies.

NPs were asked if the free gifts distributed by sales reps had any effect on their likelihood of prescribing a certain drug; 93% said no.

With accountable care organizations upcoming, nurse practitioners will play a larger role in patient care, especially in the primary care setting. When it comes to relationships with the pharmaceutical industry, they need to come under the same scrutiny that physicians are subjected to.

 is an internal medicine physician and on the Board of Contributors at USA Today.  He is founder and editor of, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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