What influences healthcare providers' prescribing decisions? Results from a national survey

Res Social Adm Pharm. 2021 Jan 28;S1551-7411(21)00035-8. doi: 10.1016/j.sapharm.2021.01.012. Online ahead of print.


Background: Prior U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) surveys with healthcare providers (HCPs) have focused on attitudes toward direct-to-consumer advertising and have not specifically examined professionally-targeted prescription drug promotion. Similarly, there are no recent national surveys of HCPs examining their interactions with the pharmaceutical industry.

Objectives: The goal of this study was to use a national sample of HCPs to examine exposure to professionally-targeted prescription drug promotions and interactions with industry, and knowledge, attitudes and practices related to FDA approval of prescription drugs.

Methods: An online national survey was conducted with 2000 HCPs representing primary care physicians (PCPs), specialists (SPs), physician assistants (PAs), and nurse practitioners (NPs). The sample was randomly drawn from WebMD's Medscape subscriber network, stratified by HCP group, and designed to yield target numbers of completed surveys in each group. Weights were computed to correct for unequal selection probabilities, differential response rates, and differential coverage and used to generalize completed surveys to a national population of PCPs, SPs, NPs, and PAs.

Results: Exposure and attention to pharmaceutical promotions and contact with industry were significantly associated with reported increase in pharmaceutical industry influence on decisions about prescription drugs. SPs were significantly more likely to prescribe off-label and serve as opinion leaders for the pharmaceutical industry compared to other provider groups.

Conclusions: Findings indicate pharmaceutical promotions directed at HCPs occur in many forms and are disseminated through multiple channels. By using a nationally representative sample of HCPs, this study provides population-level estimates for exposure and attention to prescription drug promotion and contact with industry and evidence for their influence on prescriber decisions. Findings from this study will help to inform FDA of HCP responses to and impacts of prescription drug promotion.

Keywords: Detailing; Healthcare providers; Off-label prescribing; Pharmaceutical opinion leaders; Prescribers; Prescription drug promotion.