Is Big Pharma Buying Your Doctor Lunch?



If you go to openpaymentsdata.cms.gov and look up your doctor's name you might see a lot of payments labeled "food and beverage." What does this mean? If you didn't know at any time you can go to the aforementioned website and see exactly what drug companies have paid your doctor. Patients are able to see if doctors are more inclined to prescribe certain drugs. This can be something significant because We will be able to know if your doctor is prescribing something in your best interest or to get a kickback.


This is such a problem that there is an organization called No Free Lunch. This organization urges doctors to not accept any gift from drug companies. The institute of medicine also advised in a report that all doctors should forgo any and all gifts from drug and/or research companies. This has even come into medical schools as of 2016 Harvard is requiring all faculty and students to disclose financial interest in research or pharmaceutical companies in the syllabus or during a presentation. They also ban all free industry meals. (source)


Can gifts actually influence what doctors prescribe? In 2016 a study done using the website "open payments," that I mentioned above, it was found that doctors receiving "lunches" from opioid manufacturers had a 9% increase in prescribing opioids to their patients. (Source) Although the prescription of opioids has declined, 40% of opioid deaths involve prescription, in 2015 doctors prescribed opioids three times more than in 1999, and it is prescribed more in areas with the highest rate of overdose. This shows a clear correlation between free lunches and higher rates of addiction. This is so bad that a report by ProPublica says companies target doctors more that already have disciplinary actions against them for overprescribing. (source) We can see here that pharmaceutical companies have a clear influence and seek out doctors they think will make them the most money.


A paper published in the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics says "Physicians fail to recognize their vulnerability to commercial influences; due to self-serving bias, rationalization, and cognitive dissonance. Professionalism offers little protection; even the most conscious and genuine commitment to ethical behavior cannot eliminate unintentional, subconscious bias." This is clear. ANY doctors, well-meaning or not, accepting gifts from pharmaceutical companies will affect what they prescribe to their patients.


Many previous studies have come to the conclusion that doctors do not overprescribe and that meals are just a nice gift for all their hard work. But since 2013 when the affordable care act required pharmaceutical companies to report any gifts given to doctors, the studies have been telling a different story. A paper posted in Cornell in 2020 says that researchers estimate that for every dollar they spend on gifts for doctors they could receive up to a 1,700% return. (source) If it did not make them money, they would not do it. Big pharma spends over $2 billion on gifts to doctors and about $101 million on lobbying a year. Clearly, they have found what brings them the biggest return and that is where they put their money.


I encourage everyone to check out the website and find out if big pharma has bought their doctor's lunch. We are the patients and the doctors are supposed to work for us, not for the pharmaceutical industry.


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