Doctors Who Get Big Pharma Cash Tend to Prescribe More Brand Name Medications


Image by Chris Potter / CC BY 2.0

Remember when I wrote about the members of the American Medical Association or AMA who were found to have been supported by Big Pharma, and who proposed new guidelines for the conduct of medical doctors facing the media?

Well, those of us in the alternative medicine and alternative healing industry knew already about how Big Pharma can always be the hand behind most initiatives like that. But what was the evidence then to implicate AMA to such a dastardly deed?

Enter a study by ProPublica, a not-for-profit investigative journalism group who conducted a study about medical doctors and the payments they received from big medical companies. The researchers investigated 2014 records of payments from pharmaceutical and medical device makers and matching that data on doctors’ medication choices in the Medicare’s prescription drug program.

They discovered that the doctors who got money from the big pharma drug companies and device makers prescribed a higher percentage of branded drugs overall than doctors who didn’t. In fact, they concluded that doctors who received big pharma industry payments were 2 to 3 times more likely to prescribe brand-name drugs with very high rates than others.

The study’s researchers found out that doctors who receive more than US$5,000 in 2014 had more brand-name drug prescribing incidence.

How Big Pharma Can Afford to Pay Large Sums to Doctors

In 2013, 5 pharmaceutical companies were able to make a profit margin of 20% or more. These were Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Eli Lilly, Hoffmann-La Roche, and AbbVie.

U.S.-based Pharma company Pfizer alone made the largest profit margin—42%. Considering that big pharma always tries to justify their high prices of drugs to research & development, a 42% profit margin is, in the words of one industry veteran, not one where you can “be able to justify”.

But shouldn’t drug companies also consider the exorbitant prices they impose on their newly minted drugs. Considering new drugs for pancreatic cancer which command at least US$100,000 for a full-term treatment. These are sometimes way, way beyond the affordability of most cancer patients!

But from the data provided in this table, it seems that “marketing budgets” seem to predominate R&D budgets for most drug companies in 2013 (see table attached; Source: BBC News 2014 and GlobalData).

And from most of the data culled from doctors, about 9 out of 10 cardiologists who wrote 1,000 prescriptions for Medicare got payments from pharma companies or device makers.

About the benevolence or un-benevolence of big pharm, are you convinced? Share your comments in the section below!