Can Doctors be Bought with a Slice of Pizza?
[Posted on: Thursday, June 23, 2016]
Last week a report made a sensational claim that even cheap meals influence which prescriptions are written by doctors. The survey of prescriptions written after meals were provided found that there was an increased rate of prescribing the brand-name medication that was being promoted. Under the Sunshine Act, any payments made by drug companies to individual physicians of more than $100 per year has to be reported to CMS which in turn posts this information on its website for public viewing. The goal of Sunshine Act is to expose industry-physician financial relationship. However, by keeping the cost of the meals below the threshold of reporting, industry can promote its drugs to physicians without public disclosure under the Sunshine act. It may seem to be a nefarious practice. However, we may be reading too much into it. To educate doctors about their drugs, companies frequently host lunch seminars, where meals are provided while a presentation on the drug is made. This is a good way to get attention of a busy physician who otherwise would be hard to find. With multiple drugs competing for the same patient, it is an important way for drug companies to promote their drugs directly to physicians. The meals provided at these “lunch & learn” events are inexpensive but are certainly an inducement to get the target audience who will otherwise be missing a meal to listen to the drug rep. The Sunshine Act has greatly reduced practically all kinds of payments made to physicians by drug companies. However, there is need to drug companies to educate doctors about new drugs or even compare their drugs to the competition. The above practice to using low financial incentive of cheap meal may be a good balance. The fact that more prescriptions are written for a given drug after a physician heard about its benefits over the alternatives shows that it works. The authors of the article tried to take a theoretical perspective in their analysis but ignored the importance of such interactions. It would be an overkill to stop all interactions of any kind between two important stakeholders in the prescription drug domain: the drug company and the physician.