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Doctors are accepting billions of dollars from drug and medical device companies

Big Pharma lobbying spendingInvestigative reporters at ProPublica have spent the past several years documenting the billions of dollars pharmaceutical companies pay doctors for “consulting.”

The latest report finds the cash still flowing, despite critics who find these payments to be questionable, if not unethical.

More than 2,500 physicians have received at least $500,000 apiece from drug makers and medical device companies since 2014. In return, these doctors deliver paid dinner talks, sponsored speeches, or consult on their products.

More than 700 doctors received at least $1 million in payments.

The numbers show there has been almost no change in how much the industry spends. Each year from 2014-2018, drug and medical device companies spent between $2.1 billion and $2.2 billion paying doctors for speaking and consulting, as well as on meals, travel and gifts.

It is “quite striking” how much money doctors were earning from “other activities aside from patient care,” said Dr. Walid Gellad, an associate professor of medicine and health policy at the University of Pittsburgh, where he leads the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing.

It is “quite striking” how much money doctors were earning from “other activities aside from patient care,”

Dr. Aaron P. Mitchell, a medical oncologist and health services researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, told ProPublica that his research has shown that when doctors interact more consistently with a drug company they are more likely to prescribe that company’s cancer drug. The drug industry, Mitchell said, “knows that they need to cultivate relationships over more time, so that’s what they’re really trying to do. It’s not just one drug meal. It’s consistency.”

Big Pharma casts a wide net with its spending. Over the past five years, 1 million doctors, dentists, optometrists, chiropractors and podiatrists received at least one payment, usually a meal, from a company. More than 323,000 received at least one payment every year.

“Promotional spending is a major way that manufacturers in these situations distinguish themselves from each other — not by conducting comparative studies or by engaging in substantial price reductions,” Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in the article.

Has your doctor received drug or device company money that might affect the drugs you’re being prescribed? You can look that information up on ProPublica’s database here. Share what you find with Voices for Affordable Health.