Are Some Doctors Influenced by Big Pharma Payments?

As a patient, you rely on your doctor to recommend the best medication and treatment for you based on their extensive knowledge and experience. Most doctors do keep their patients’ best interests in mind while making medical decisions. However, some doctors may be swayed by payments–sometimes substantial–from drug and device companies. If a doctor recommends the wrong drug or medical device because of financial interest and that decision harms the patient, the doctor is guilty of medical malpractice.

The practice of medical device and drug companies providing gifts and payments to physicians is nothing new. A recent study published by the New England Journal of Medicine found that over two-and-a-half years, physicians licensed in Massachusetts received over $76 million from those companies. This figure does not gifts of less than $50. Doctors received these payments for attending lectures, dinners, or conferences sponsored by companies hoping to promote their products, raising the question of conflict of interest. For example, if a patient sees two different doctors for a medical issue and one recommends surgery while the other opts for a wait-and-see approach, the patient might wonder if one doctor has some kind of relationship with the device and drug industries.

Currently a few states have laws requiring corporations to disclose payments to health providers. The Physician Payment Sunshine Act goes into effect in 2014, making corporate payment information available nationwide. Having this sort of transparency about financial influences on physicians will mean better options for patients. They will be able to seek out information when picking a doctor or making a decision about a medical procedure. Patients may also consider checking payment information when a doctor switches a long-time prescription medication from a generic to a name brand.

Even when a doctor believes he is not being influenced by an occasional lunch provided by a pharmaceutical representative, he may subconsciously develop positive feelings about a product as a result. Another common subconscious manipulation occurs when drug companies pay doctors consulting fees to listen to descriptions of new medications and evaluate their performance. The simple repetition of information can often be enough for the doctor to see the product in a favorable light and therefore prescribe it before a cheaper or generic drug.

While most doctors work diligently to provide the best possible care for their patients, the fact remains that corporations are willing to spend millions of dollars to sell their products. The more knowledge patients have about physicians’ relationships with drug companies, the better equipped they will be to make informed decisions about where to find the best care. This new transparency may also dissuade the small minority of unscrupulous doctors from recommending a drug or device that is not in the best interest of their patient.


New York Times, Doctors’ Lucrative Industry Ties, 5-13-13