It happens all the time: You go to your doctor with a problem, and he or she writes a prescription for a drug. You assume that your doctor prescribed the drug because it’s going to help you, but unfortunately that’s not always true. In fact, many physicians have relationships with drug companies that raise doubts about their motives when prescribing drugs.
Based upon reports from the drug companies themselves, drug companies spend far more money on marketing than they do on research; and the vast majority of this marketing is directed toward physicians. See: Pharmaceutical marketing. Some of this marketing includes distributing free samples and literature to physicians; however, drug companies also pay physicians directly to participate in studies, to write favorable medical journal articles, and to participate in company “speakers’ bureaus.” See: How the Drug Companies Say They Screen Their Speaker Docs. Another marketing tool is the pharmaceutical sales representative or “detailer”; the U.S. alone has approximately 81,000 such people employed by pharmaceutical companies (1 for every 7.9 physicians). Pharmaceutical sales representatives personally encourage individual physicians to prescribe their products; to facilitate this, representatives often provide paid meals and gifts to physicians and their staffs.
Given the staggering amount of money drug companies spend to get physicians to prescribe their products, the consuming public has a legitimate reason to be concerned about physicians’ motivations for prescribing certain drugs. As a recent New York Times editorial notes, the Obama administration has adopted a new federal regulation that requires drug and medical device companies to report payments, gifts, consulting fees, and research support paid to physicians and hospitals.[insert links to NY Times editorial and new federal rule here]. This information will then be posted on a public web site that will be easily searchable starting next year. Ultimately, this information may lead to outright bans on such payments to physicians. In the meantime, though, the public will have a better idea as to why certain physicians may be prescribing certain drugs, and when necessary, question the need or appropriateness for prescriptions.
Finding Out Who Pays Your Doctor