Doctors Who Accept Free Meals Prescribe Branded Products More Often

July 5, 2016


Doctors who take free meals from the pharmaceutical industry are more likely to prescribe branded drugs to Medicare patients than generics, according to a study published on June 20 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

As the Chicago Tribune reported, researchers studied data on almost 280,000 doctors who collectively had received 63,524 sponsored meals in the last five months of 2013.

The doctors more frequently prescribed the four most common brand-name drugs in a Medicare program. For Bystolic, a high-blood-pressure medication, physicians who received at least four free meals chose the brand 5.4 times more often than generics. Brand-name drugs were prescribed more often even when doctors received just one meal, and the prescriptions grew with the number of meals and their costs.

The pharmaceutical business argues that covering the costs of meals helps enable communication with doctors, but critics charge that physicians expose themselves to undue influence. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America rejects the study, saying it “cherry-picks physician prescribing data... to advance a false narrative.”

Ethical guidelines from the AMA state that physicians cannot accept gifts of more than minimal value or for which reciprocity is expected or implied.  Arthur Caplan, who heads the ethics program at the Global Institute for Public Health at NYU, said, “Any gifting creates a sense of obligation.”  — Greg Beaubien


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