65% of patients see doctors who get paid by drug companies

pills and money
A majority of U.S. patients visited a doctor in the past year who received payments or gifts from pharmaceutical or medical device companies.

An estimated 65% of patients in the United States have visited a doctor in the past year who received payments or gifts from pharmaceutical or medical device companies, but most have no idea about it, according to new research.

Indeed, only 5% of patients knew their doctor had received payments, according to the study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

"These findings tell us that if you thought that your doctor was not receiving any money from industry, you're most likely mistaken," said the study’s lead author, Genevieve Pham-Kanter, an assistant professor in Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health, in an announcement. "Patients should be aware of the incentives that their physicians face that may lead them to not always act in their patients' best interest. And the more informed patients are about their providers and options for care, the better decisions they can make."

Researchers from Drexel, Stanford and Harvard universities conducted a national survey of more than 3,500 adults and then linked their doctors to data from Open Payments, a government website that reports payments from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries to physicians.

Payments were more likely to occur with certain types of specialists, the study found. For example, 85% of patients who saw an orthopedic surgeon and 77% who saw an obstetrician or gynecologist saw a doctor who received industry payments. Doctors visited by survey participants received a median payment of $510, the study found. Drugmakers know that even small gifts can influence physicians, said co-author Michelle Mello of Stanford Law School and the Department of Health Research and Policy at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Data released last year from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services revealed that physicians and teaching hospitals received $7.52 billion in payments from manufacturers of drugs, devices, biologicals and medical supplies in 2015. One study last year offered additional evidence of a correlation between payments by drug manufacturers to doctors and increased prescriptions for drugs developed by the latter. Another study found doctors who get a free meal from a drugmaker have an increased rate of prescribing the brand-name medication that the company is promoting.