Medical Device Firm Payments To Physicians Exceed What Drug Companies Pay Physicians, Target Surgical Specialists

Health Aff (Millwood). 2021 Apr;40(4):603-612. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2020.01785.


Many physicians receive payments from medical device companies that make products physicians can use or recommend. Such payments are controversial because of concerns that they might influence physicians to treat patients with devices made by the firms that make those payments, even if those devices are not optimal for patients. This issue has been studied extensively in the drug industry. Medical devices entail a greater degree of physician-industry interaction regarding treatment, training, and innovation than pharmaceuticals, and they have been less studied because of data limitations. We summarize and compare device and drug firm payment rates and magnitudes reported in Open Payments data by payment type, physician specialty, and Medicare billing amount. Relative to drug firm payments, device firm payments as a percentage of industry revenue were seven times as large; device firm payments were also more often related to product development and training and were more strongly correlated with physicians' Medicare billing amounts. Using Food and Drug Administration product approval data, we further document that top-paying firms dominate high-revenue device categories. Our results suggest that optimal policy regarding physician-industry relationships for medical devices may be very different from that for pharmaceuticals. Estimating the causal relationships between payments and device use, pricing, and innovation to inform policy makers will be possible only with greater data transparency, such as including device identifiers in medical claims.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Drug Industry
  • Humans
  • Medicare
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations*
  • Physicians*
  • Specialization
  • United States


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations