Study finds association between industry-sponsored meals and prescribing patterns

A new study shows an association between physicians' receipt of pharmaceutical industry-sponsored meals and a higher rate of prescribing the brand-name medication that was being promoted for Medicare beneficiaries. The researchers note, however, that the findings reflect an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship.

A new study shows an association between physicians' receipt of pharmaceutical industry-sponsored meals and a higher rate of prescribing the brand-name medication that was being promoted for Medicare beneficiaries. The researchers note, however, that the findings reflect an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship. The study used industry payment data from the Open Payments Program and prescribing data for individual physicians from Medicare Part D for 2013. Participants were doctors who wrote Medicare prescriptions for any of four drug classes: statins, cardioselective beta-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin-receptor blockers (ACE inhibitors and ARBs), and selective serotonin and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs and SNRIs). According to the data, more than 279,000 physicians received 63,524 payments associated with four target drugs; and 95% of the payments were meals with a mean value less than $20. The researchers found that physicians who received a single meal promoting a particular drug had increased rates of prescribing rosuvastatin over other statins, nebivolol over other beta-blockers, olmesartan over other ACE inhibitors or ARBs, and desvenlafaxine over other SSRIs and SNRIs. Additional meals and more expensive meals were associated with higher relative prescribing rates. The results "support the importance of ongoing transparency efforts in the United States and Europe," the researchers write. An editorial accompanying the study, by Robert Steinbrook, MD, suggests that "if drug and device manufacturers were to stop sending money to physicians for promotional speaking, meals, and other activities without clear medical justifications and invest more in independent bona fide research on safety, effectiveness, and affordability, our patients and the health care system would be better off."