Doctors who take drug company payments prescribe more branded drugs

Patient consulting with doctor

Doctors who accept payments from pharmaceutical companies write more prescriptions for branded drugs than those who don’t, according to a US report. 

The analysis, which was carried out by investigative news outlet ProPublica[1]
, found that doctors who received any kind of payment over the course of a year from a drug or device company were twice as likely to prescribe branded drugs at an exceptionally high rate compared with others in their speciality. 

The number of branded drug prescriptions also increased with the value of payments received. For example, internal medicine doctors who received payments of at least US$5,000 prescribed branded drugs at a rate of 30.1%, almost 10% more than those who received less than US$100 (20.7%).

Doctors who received speaking fees also had higher rates of branded drug prescriptions than those who received other types of payment. 

“This feeds into the ongoing conversation about the propriety of these sorts of relationships [between doctors and pharmaceutical companies],” says Aaron Kesselheim, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who consulted on the analysis. “Hopefully we’re getting past the point where people will say ‘There’s no evidence that these relationships change physicians’ prescribing practices’,” he adds. 

The report matched prescription data from the Medicare programme, which covers around a quarter of all prescriptions made in the United States, with information from Open Payments, a US government initiative that makes public all payments made from drug and device companies to individual doctors. 

The study included 150,323 physicians from the five largest medical specialities in the United States (family medicine, internal medicine, cardiovascular disease, psychiatry, ophthalmology) who issued at least 1,000 prescriptions to Medicare beneficiaries in 2014.


[1] Grochowski Jones R & Ornstein C. Matching industry payments to Medicare prescribing patterns: an analysis. March 2016. Available from:

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Doctors who take drug company payments prescribe more branded drugs;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2016.20200924

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