The association between industry payments to physicians and prescribing rates of the brand-name medications that are being promoted is controversial. In the United States, industry payment data and Medicare prescribing records recently became publicly available.
To study the association between physicians' receipt of industry-sponsored meals, which account for roughly 80% of the total number of industry payments, and rates of prescribing the promoted drug to Medicare beneficiaries.
Cross-sectional analysis of industry payment data from the federal Open Payments Program for August 1 through December 31, 2013, and prescribing data for individual physicians from Medicare Part D, for all of 2013. Participants were physicians who wrote Medicare prescriptions in any of 4 drug classes: statins, cardioselective β-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin-receptor blockers (ACE inhibitors and ARBs), and selective serotonin and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs and SNRIs). We identified physicians who received industry-sponsored meals promoting the most-prescribed brand-name drug in each class (rosuvastatin, nebivolol, olmesartan, and desvenlafaxine, respectively). Data analysis was performed from August 20, 2015, to December 15, 2015.
Receipt of an industry-sponsored meal promoting the drug of interest.
Prescribing rates of promoted drugs compared with alternatives in the same class, after adjustment for physician prescribing volume, demographic characteristics, specialty, and practice setting.
A total of 279 669 physicians received 63 524 payments associated with the 4 target drugs. Ninety-five percent of payments were meals, with a mean value of less than $20. Rosuvastatin represented 8.8% (SD, 9.9%) of statin prescriptions; nebivolol represented 3.3% (7.4%) of cardioselective β-blocker prescriptions; olmesartan represented 1.6% (3.9%) of ACE inhibitor and ARB prescriptions; and desvenlafaxine represented 0.6% (2.6%) of SSRI and SNRI prescriptions. Physicians who received a single meal promoting the drug of interest had higher rates of prescribing rosuvastatin over other statins (odds ratio [OR], 1.18; 95% CI, 1.17-1.18), nebivolol over other β-blockers (OR, 1.70; 95% CI, 1.69-1.72), olmesartan over other ACE inhibitors and ARBs (OR, 1.52; 95% CI, 1.51-1.53), and desvenlafaxine over other SSRIs and SNRIs (OR, 2.18; 95% CI, 2.13-2.23). Receipt of additional meals and receipt of meals costing more than $20 were associated with higher relative prescribing rates.
Receipt of industry-sponsored meals was associated with an increased rate of prescribing the brand-name medication that was being promoted. The findings represent an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship.