Background: The prescribing behaviour of doctors is influenced by the pharmaceutical industry. This study investigated the extent to which contacts with pharmaceutical sales representatives (PSR) and the perception of these contacts influence prescribing habits.
Method: An online questionnaire regarding contact with PSRs and perceptions of this contact was sent to 1,388 doctors, 11.5% (n = 160) of whom completed the survey. Individual prescribing data over a year (number of prescriptions, expenditure, and daily doses) for all on-patent branded, off-patent branded, and generic drugs were obtained from the Bavarian Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians.
Results: 84% of the doctors saw PSR at least once a week, and 14% daily. 69% accepted drug samples, 39% accepted stationery and 37% took part in sponsored continuing medical education (CME) frequently. 5 physicians (3%) accepted no benefits at all. 43% of doctors believed that they received adequate and accurate information from PSRs frequently or always and 42% believed that their prescribing habits were influenced by PSR visits occasionally or frequently. Practices that saw PSRs frequently had significantly higher total prescriptions and total daily doses (but not expenditure) than practices that were less frequently visited. Doctors who believed that they received accurate information from PSRs showed higher expenditures on off-patent branded drugs (thus available as generics) and a lower proportion of generics. The eschewal of sponsored CME was associated with a lower proportion of on patent-branded drug prescriptions, lower expenditure on off-patent branded drug prescriptions and a higher proportion of generics. Acceptance of office stationery was associated with higher daily doses.
Conclusions: Avoidance of industry-sponsored CME is associated with more rational prescribing habits. Furthermore, gift acceptance and the belief that one is receiving adequate information from a PSR are associated with changed prescribing habits. Further studies with larger sample sizes are needed.