Doctors paid by pharma often promote drugs on Twitter without disclosing conflict, study shows

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A study found doctors promote drugs on Twitter without disclosing they take money from pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Some oncologists take payments from pharmaceutical companies, but never disclose their conflicts of interest when they mention the drugs on Twitter, according to a study.

Researchers studied 156 U.S. hematologist-oncologists and found that the majority of physicians on Twitter have significant financial conflict, frequently post tweets mentioning specific drugs for which they have a conflict, but almost none discloses those financial ties, according to the study in The Lancet Haematology.

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“This is a big problem,” Vinay Prasad, M.D., a professor at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland and one of the study’s authors, told Reuters. “Doctors are directly telling patients about their views on drugs, and financial conflict plays a role. But they’re not telling patients they have a conflict.”

Doctors could disclose the conflict in their Twitter profiles or possibly take a lesson from celebrities, who use the hashtag #sponsored when they tweet about products from companies that pay them, Prasad said.

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And it’s not just on social media where patients are in the dark about physician conflicts. A study released earlier this year 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.

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 promotes.