Importance: The association between industry payments to physicians and prescribing rates of the brand-name medications that are being promoted is controversial. In the United States, industry payment data and Medicare prescribing records recently became publicly available.
Objective: To study the association between physicians' receipt of industry-sponsored meals, which account for roughly 80% of the total number of industry payments, and rates of prescribing the promoted drug to Medicare beneficiaries.
Design, setting, and participants: Cross-sectional analysis of industry payment data from the federal Open Payments Program for August 1 through December 31, 2013, and prescribing data for individual physicians from Medicare Part D, for all of 2013. Participants were physicians who wrote Medicare prescriptions in any of 4 drug classes: statins, cardioselective β-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin-receptor blockers (ACE inhibitors and ARBs), and selective serotonin and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs and SNRIs). We identified physicians who received industry-sponsored meals promoting the most-prescribed brand-name drug in each class (rosuvastatin, nebivolol, olmesartan, and desvenlafaxine, respectively). Data analysis was performed from August 20, 2015, to December 15, 2015.
Exposures: Receipt of an industry-sponsored meal promoting the drug of interest.
Main outcomes and measures: Prescribing rates of promoted drugs compared with alternatives in the same class, after adjustment for physician prescribing volume, demographic characteristics, specialty, and practice setting.
Results: A total of 279 669 physicians received 63 524 payments associated with the 4 target drugs. Ninety-five percent of payments were meals, with a mean value of less than $20. Rosuvastatin represented 8.8% (SD, 9.9%) of statin prescriptions; nebivolol represented 3.3% (7.4%) of cardioselective β-blocker prescriptions; olmesartan represented 1.6% (3.9%) of ACE inhibitor and ARB prescriptions; and desvenlafaxine represented 0.6% (2.6%) of SSRI and SNRI prescriptions. Physicians who received a single meal promoting the drug of interest had higher rates of prescribing rosuvastatin over other statins (odds ratio [OR], 1.18; 95% CI, 1.17-1.18), nebivolol over other β-blockers (OR, 1.70; 95% CI, 1.69-1.72), olmesartan over other ACE inhibitors and ARBs (OR, 1.52; 95% CI, 1.51-1.53), and desvenlafaxine over other SSRIs and SNRIs (OR, 2.18; 95% CI, 2.13-2.23). Receipt of additional meals and receipt of meals costing more than $20 were associated with higher relative prescribing rates.
Conclusions and relevance: Receipt of industry-sponsored meals was associated with an increased rate of prescribing the brand-name medication that was being promoted. The findings represent an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship.