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Dr. Joseph Mercola

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Drug Companies Greatly Influence Doctors’ Prescribing Habits

Drug representatives from pharmaceutical companies greatly influence general practitioners’ (GPs) decisions of whether to prescribe new drugs.

Despite risks that the information may be misleading, biased or inaccurate, the study found that family doctors are more likely to rely on information supplied by drug manufacturers rather than on information from independent sources.

Often, researchers said, GPs relied on the pharmaceutical industry as their major information source.

In the study, researchers asked 107 GPs in northwest England to explain how they made the decision to prescribe certain new drugs. A total of 19 drugs that had been introduced in the United Kingdom between January 1998 and May 1999 were included in the study.

The doctors were asked to describe the context in which they prescribed the new drugs, the reasons why the chose one drug instead of another, and how they obtained the information that influenced their decision.

Most commonly, GPs were initially introduced to new drugs through sales representatives. Other, less influential, sources included newspapers and hospital consultants.

Drug companies were also the greatest influence on the GPs’ decisions of which drugs to prescribe, followed by consultants and patient requests for specific treatments.

About 70 percent of GPs regarded drug representatives as an efficient way to obtain new drug information, according to researchers. While the doctors were generally wary of the drug industry’s objectives, they tended to believe that its information would be selective but accurate.

The GPs reported that they could generally spot misleading information, however, according to study findings only 17 percent of GPs sought out evidence from peer-reviewed journals before making prescribing decisions. Their reasons for not seeking such evidence-based information included lack of time, difficulty in interpretation, irrelevance and lack of attention to clinical experience.

The study warns that pharmaceutical companies have a great influence on GPs and stresses the urgent need for straightforward and reliable drug information from independent sources.

Family Practice January 2003;20:61-68


As I said last year:

Drug companies are spending about 15 billion dollars a year on physician marketing.

Most physicians have no clue that the drug companies are spending (on average) $10,000 per doctor to influence their behavior. The doctors, of course, do not receive a check, but the perks are quite significant.

They also don't realize that they actually lose that much income and more if they factor in the time they lose by sitting with the drug company reps and going to their "free" meals and lectures. Doctors also often overlook what a fiduciary responsibility is and therefore don’t’ realize that they need to carefully analyze the costs involved in recommending expensive drugs.

Though drugs are sometimes appropriate and at times can save a person’s life, most of the time they are unnecessary, harmful and expensive. They cause patients to divert much of their hard-earned income to the drug companies, which further perpetuates this indirect physician subsidy.

One thing these drug companies are not is stupid. There is no way they would spend $15 billion a year to market to physicians unless they received a significant return on their investment.

Did I say return on investment?

Yes, I did.

The fact of the matter is that the United States alone is spending nearly $1 trillion for health care each year.

That is one thousand billion dollars.

The late Senator Everett Dirksen from Illinois was fond of talking about Defense Department spending by saying "a billion dollars here and a billion dollars there, and before you know it you are talking about real money."

You'd better believe that there is plenty of profit to be found in that trillion dollars.

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Disclaimer - Newsletters are based upon the opinions of Dr. Mercola. They are not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and they are not intended as medical advice. They are intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Mercola and his community. Dr. Mercola encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.


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