A new study suggests that buying free meals for doctors is a lucrative investment for drug manufacturers.
An absolutely stunning new report finds that what pills you get from the doctor may be determined by which company bought your doctor lunch.
The study found that doctors who accepted free meals from drug companies were more likely to prescribe drugs those companies sell, according to a University of California San Francisco statement.
If drugmakers spent money on additional — and pricier — meals, their dividends went up even more.
The American Medical Association and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has established guidelines allowing meals and gifts to doctors worth up to $100. The meals were typically of low value — just some pizza or a sandwich — but it represented a huge payoff for drug companies. It basically makes the doctor feel like they owe the drug rep something for the free meal.
And it means bad news for patients. Many Medicare beneficiaries have to pay $1 for generics and $40 to $80 for brand-name drugs, so these free meals may be costing seniors who are often on 10 or 20 medicines a huge amount of money.
“Whether a formal dinner or a brief lunch in a doctor’s office, these encounters are an opportunity for drug company representatives to discuss products with physicians and their staff,” said Adams Dudley, MD, MBA, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Healthcare Value at the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at UCSF, and the senior scientist on the study. “The meals may influence physicians’ prescribing decisions.”
“Our data raises questions about current practices, but it’s also worth noting that there is not yet a standardized way to get drug information out to doctors,” Dudley said. “The FDA, Medicare, or insurers could set up alternative means of educating doctors about drug developments, but they haven’t done that yet. Given how much extra money they are spending on brand-name drugs, either Medicare or insurers would certainly see plenty of savings even if they were to pay the full cost of an educational program about when and how to use new drugs.”