A new study made by JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Internal Medicine finds that free meals may influence doctors` prescriptions. The research establishes a link between payments made by big pharmaceutical companies to physicians and the doctors` tendency to prescribe more of the companies` products. In most situations (almost 95 percent of the cases), payments come in the form of a free lunch.
According to the study, the cost of such a meal is less than $20. Thanks to transparency laws, the experts could access information related to the topic by using Medicare`s Open Payments data. This system follows the money spent by drug companies on doctors` research activities, meals, gifts and travel expenses.
The fact that free meals may influence doctors` prescriptions raises concerns as the cost of the treatment may increase due to this matter.
Even though brand-name drugs tend to be sold at higher rates than the competition, doctors who received free meals prescribed them to patients more often than the doctors who didn`t receive any gifts.
The research focused on only four drugs and identified more than 270,000 doctors who were paid by pharmaceutical companies. The authors took a look at four different drugs: Crestor (a pill that reduces cholesterol levels), Bystolic (a drug used for patients who suffer from hypertension), Benicar (a medicine used to fight high blood pressure) and Pristiq (antidepressant used to treat depressive disorders).
Unsurprisingly, the study also found a connection between the cost of the meals offered for free and the frequency with which the drugs produced by these companies were prescribed by doctors.
In the case of Crestor, the authors found an increase of 20 percent. Benicar (from Daiichi Sankyo) was prescribed 52 percent more often than the other ACE inhibitors. Doctors who received free meals were 70 percent more likely to advise patients to use Bystolic (made by Forest Laboratories), whereas the percentage for Pristiq raises to 118 percent.
However, the fact that free meals may influence doctors` prescriptions should not be regarded as a cause and effect principle. The authors of the study stressed that the survey focuses on a mere association.
Moreover, one of PhRMA officials made a statement about the study advancing the idea that this is a false narrative. According to the declaration, physicians` prescribing decisions are influenced by the efficiency of the drugs and its safety.
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