Most doctors get gifts from drugmakers, study finds

April 26, 2007|By Los Angeles Times

Nearly 95 percent of physicians in the United States receive free food, beverages, drug samples, sports tickets or other benefits from drug company sales representatives eager to influence their prescribing habits, according to a report today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Family practice physicians, who prescribe a broad range of drugs, were more likely to receive visits and gifts from sales representatives than are other specialist groups involved in the survey, researchers said.

Doctors in group practices were likelier to pocket fees for consulting or lectures than are physicians at hospitals and clinics, which tend to have rules limiting contacts between the medical staff and the drug industry, according to the report.

The study of 1,600 doctors, conducted in 2003 and 2004, is the first to look at physician-industry relationships since 2002, when the American Medical Association and the drug industry voluntarily limited the nature and value of gifts doctors are permitted to accept.

The guidelines were prompted by increasing concerns over possible conflicts of interest related to handouts from drug companies.

Recently, a few academic medical centers, including Stanford University's medical school, have prohibited gifts out of concern that even the smallest token could create a sense of obligation on the part of the physician.

The study's lead author, Eric Campbell, an assistant professor of medicine at the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital, said he was surprised to find that the relationships between physicians and industry were so widespread.

Campbell said the study was not designed to assess whether the relationships influenced doctors' prescribing habits or affected patient care. Nonetheless, he said, it was clear that many doctors benefited directly from the industry's marketing tactics and it was safe to assume that drug companies also benefited.

The industry spends more than $20 billion a year on marketing, he noted, the bulk of which goes to physicians in the form of samples, lunches, sponsorship of educational programs and other things, according to previous research.

"If the companies didn't benefit from the relationships, they wouldn't be doing it," he said.

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