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Doctors Who Get Drug Company Money More Likely To Prescribe Company's Meds

New UNC research ties pharmaceutical industry payments to higher prescription rates.

A study from UNC-Chapel Hill shows cancer doctors who received money from pharmaceutical companies for meals and lodging were more likely to prescribe medicines from those drug makers.

Researchers at UNC's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center examined two data sets from 2013 and 2014. They looked at prescription data compiled by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as well as records publicly available through Open Payments, a database federally mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which requires U.S. drug and device manufacturers to disclose transfers of financial value greater than $10 to physicians and teaching hospitals.

"In an ideal world we'd like to think that the only things entering into that decision as to what treatment to take is going to be happening in the room between the patient and their physician, without any outside influences," said Aaron Mitchell, an oncology fellow at Lineberger and the study's lead author.

While the study looked specifically at payments to doctors who prescribed drugs for treating cancer, Mitchell said researchers have found similar associations in the prescription of drugs for blood pressure, cholesterol and depression.

"Either ask your doctor in person or look up on the Open Payments web site to see, if this is something of concern to you, does your doctor have a relationship with the drug industry or do they have a relationship specifically with the maker of one of the drugs that, you know, is relevant to your disease," he said.

Mitchell acknowledged his study did not establish a cause and effect relationship between drug company payments and doctors' prescription choices.

Mitchell did say, however, cause-and-effect should be the focus of a follow-up study, adding: "The fact that we do see that relationship is potentially concerning and raises the possibility that there's some undue influence from drug companies on what I think should be a very intimate and close discussion between a patient and a physician."

The study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Rusty Jacobs is a politics reporter for WUNC.
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