Free meals from drug makers translate to more prescriptions

Free meals for physicians are apparently paying off big for drug companies--but not so much for payers--according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Doctors who get a free meal from a drug maker have an increased rate of prescribing the brand-name medication that the company is promoting, the study found.

Researchers used Medicare’s Open Payments Program data from 2013 and reviewed information on 279,669 doctors who received 63,524 payments reported by drug companies. They found 95 percent of payments were for meals sponsored by the drug companies, worth less than $20.

Researchers looked at four target drugs prescribed to Medicare patients and found doctors who got a meal, during which drug companies presented information about their medications, were anywhere from 18 percent to 70 percent more likely to prescribe the drug, depending on the specific medication. When doctors received additional free meals or meals costing more than $20 they had even higher prescribing rates.

“High rates of brand-name prescribing are a pressing issue for patients and taxpayers,” Colette DeJong, a coauthor and research fellow at the Center for Healthcare Value at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, told STAT. She added that there were generic options that physicians could prescribe as alternatives.

The study results are significant because of the fact that prescribing generic drugs lowers cost and increases patient adherence, as FiercePracticeManagement previously reported. Patients who take brand-name versions of drugs, instead of generics, are no more satisfied with their results.

- read the study
- find the STAT article