Payments linked to higher odds of doctors prescribing certain cancer drugsStaff Writer | June 5, 2017
Physicians paid by pharmaceutical companies for meals, talks and travel had higher odds of prescribing those companies' drugs to treat two cancer types, a University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center-led study has found.
Tumors In oncology, the stakes are high
While they found that these payments for lodging and meals were linked to higher odds of prescribing certain drugs, that wasn't consistently the case for payments for research.
"Ideally, therapy choices should be based on two things, and two things only: medical evidence and patient preference," said Aaron Mitchell, MD, a fellow in the UNC School of Medicine Division of Hematology & Oncology and the study's lead author.
"As patient advocates, we should try to eliminate any barriers to this. We saw a pretty consistent increase in prescribing of a company's drug stemming from what we call 'general payments,' which don't go directly for research, but instead are paid to physicians for consulting, meals, travel and lodging for conferences or talks.
"This raises the possibility that drug companies are able to influence prescribing practices through gifts to physicians."
Last year, several research groups identified links between pharmaceutical payments and prescription practices.
A 2016 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine determined that doctors who received a single meal promoting a certain brand-name drug prescribed those drugs for depression, high cholesterol and heart disease at higher rates.
Another study in the same journal last year found a link between industry payments and higher rates of prescriptions for brand-name cholesterol drugs.
In oncology, the stakes are high, Mitchell said, since cancer drugs can have significant side effects and financial costs.
"This pattern is worrisome since promotional efforts by pharmaceutical companies tend to focus on newer products, which may steer providers and patients to more expensive treatments," said the study's senior author Stacie B. Dusetzina, PhD, a UNC Lineberger member and assistant professor in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and Gillings School of Global Public Health.
"This could ultimately drive up costs for patients and taxpayers." ■