Pressure continues on relationship between physicians and pharma reps

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As sales reps from the medical industry lose their access to more physicians and practice groups, a new study suggests the influence of pharmaceutical advertising may be overstated.

Hospitals and physicians have become so wary of the pharmaceutical industry’s reported ability to change prescribing habits—even among doctors who don’t believe they’re being influenced—that they’re increasingly banning reps from their practices, reports Medscape. The Physician Payments Sunshine Act has larger institutions especially skittish, resulting in a no-access rate of over 50 percent among the physicians they employ. The no-access rate among all physicians has risen from 22.9 percent in 2010 to 36.5 percent in 2016, according to the article.

Representatives of big pharma have also been hammered for their consumer-oriented marketing, including calls for a ban on direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising by the American Medical Association, but a recent analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry raises doubts about the efficacy of such efforts. The evidence reviewed by the survey does support a relationship between increased prescription rates for patients who request a drug after having seen ads for it, but only ten percent of the consumers exposed to the ads acted on them.

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The analysis looked at four recent studies tracking interactions between patients and doctors at the point of prescription, only one of which was randomized and controlled. Co-author Sara Becker, Ph.D., assistant professor of behavioral and social sciences at Brown University, told Stat she thinks the data represent “a mixed bag,” and admits the three observational studies tracked in the analysis don’t offer insight on what percentage of patients that requested prescriptions actually needed them.

According to Becker, it will take more research to nail down the balance between the maze of potential benefits and problems caused by DTC ads. “Across the board, consumer requests are not happening all that often,” she says. “But when it does, it raises prescribing volumes.”

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