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Irresponsible to say physicians can be bought to put patient care second


No doubt you’ve seen the report suggesting that even a single free meal can sway a physician’s prescribing habits.

No doubt you’ve seen the report suggesting that even a single free meal can sway a physician’s prescribing habits.  Besides it being a ludicrous suggestion that docs would be so weak and persuadable, there’s a major flaw in the report: It can’t show that acceptance of a meal at a restaurant or in a physician’s office actually causes prescriptions to be written.


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Media reports of the study, however, say otherwise.  “Drug companies are buying doctors-for as little as $16 a meal” and “RX pizza: 1 free meal can sway doctor prescribing” are but two of the headlines floating around with misinformation about the survey and misleading the public.

Bottom line: You would never put a patient’s well-being on the line for a sandwich, and the suggestion that you would is not only preposterous, and citing a “scientific survey” that says otherwise is a slap in the face to the profession.


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Now personally, I question why JAMA Internal Medicine would even run such research, but even they noted that the study does not establish cause and effect between a meal and prescribing habits.  The researchers themselves note this same fact and that the link could be as simple as physicians only dining with pharma companies whose drugs they already prescribe and trust, but again, that there is no direct link.

The fault lies instead with media outlets that are drawing that link for their audience: the current and future patients of these physicians.

Next: Irresponsible at best


It’s irresponsible at best to say that a sandwich can sway the medical decision of a physician with years of training and hundreds of patients who depend on him or her every day.  It’s reckless to misconstrue a scientific study using a sexy headline than really take the time to explain the situation to an audience.


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The Open Payments program (a creation of the Affordable Care Act via the Sunshine Act) served as the source for the data in the study. It has been plagued with problems since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services established it.  Physicians have complained – and rightly so – about inaccurate data and a lack of details about meals and gifts from pharma, device companies and others they do business with.

The facts are these: Yes, physicians sometimes accept a meal, give a speech and serve on the boards of other healthcare businesses. Does it mean that they would put patient care and safety in jeopardy as a result? No.

To suggest otherwise is an affront to physicians everywhere and false advertising to patients.  


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