NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 14, 2005

The primary role of doctors is to care for patients, but growing ties with pharmaceutical companies may undermine that fundamental relationship, says David Blumenthal, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Drug companies want to foster positive ties with doctors in order to generate better sales and better product awareness. While these interactions provide useful information for physicians, Blumenthal says the magnitude of gift-giving may lead doctors to engage in ethically (and legally) questionable behavior:

  • Marketing expenditures of the drug industry have been estimated at $12 billion to $15 billion every year, or about $8,000 to $15,000 per physician.
  • There are nearly 90,000 drug company salesmen in the United States, about one salesperson for every 4.7 office-based physicians.
  • A 2001 survey found that an estimated 92 percent of doctors received free drug samples from companies; 61 percent received meals, tickets to entertainment events, or free travel; and 12 percent received financial incentives to participate in clinical trials.

Most doctors are quite tolerant of, and have a positive attitude towards their dealings with drug companies, says Blumenthal. For example, it is an acceptable practice to speak favorably of drug products at company-sponsored events or to have drug representatives present during clinic hours and company-supported "happy hour."

Pharmaceutical firms also establish relationships by sponsoring annual meetings for physician organizations, notes Blumenthal.

Source: David Blumenthal, "Doctors and Drug Companies," New England Journal of Medicine, October 28, 2004.


Browse more articles on Health Issues