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Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

More Wining and Dining of Docs

More Wining and Dining of Docs

June 30, 2016

Meals influence doctors' prescibing of brand name drugsRecently, a study (read about it in our post here, and see the Wall Street Journal chart at right) found an unsurprising correlation: doctors receiving free food from pharmaceutical companies are more likely to prescribe higher-priced brand-name drugs; even when the food costs less than $20. So of course, that's how the drug companies market their pills.

Now, a Boston Globe/ProPublica analysis provides insight into the scale to which doctors are receiving payments from both the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. Bottom line: a lot of docs are getting a lot of meals paid for by pharma. A few highlights:

  • Over 50% of affiliated doctors at some Massachusetts community hospitals received payments.
  • At some hospitals, almost everyone was on the take: 77% of doctors at Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield received payments, mostly in the form of meals. At Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, it was 74%; at Harrington Memorial in Southbridge, it was 71%.
  • Most meals were provided while drug industry representatives provided information on brand name medications for asthma, high cholesterol and blood clots.

The Globe reached out to two doctors who each reported over 200 meal payments during 2014 for comment, but they refused to return multiple emails and phone calls from the paper. At Mercy Medical Center, the Globe reported this non-answer answer:

Mercy Medical Center said it monitors company payments to doctors and has “confidence in our physicians to do the right thing.’’ When they don’t, its statement read, “we take action.” The hospital declined to comment further.

While state law limits drug marketers to providing "modest meals" as part of educational forums, we reiterate our call to tighten the state regulation of what's modest. After all, the state definition was drafted in consultation with pharma lobbyists, and it essentially imposes no real limits. And this new research points to the need to also curb the number of meals provided, as well as the cost per meal.

                                                                                                          - Mike DiBello