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Pharmaceutical Marketing may be Driving High Cost Prescriptions

by Kathleen Blanchard RN
October 20th, 2010

A study conducted by York University professor Joel Lexchin shows drug marketing has an influence on doctor's prescribing habits. Pharmaceutical promotion leads many physicians to prescribe high priced, brand name drugs that negatively influence patients.

Though the study was observational, researchers found a link between drug promotions from pharmaceutical companies and increased prescribing practices. According to Lexchin, a professor in the School of Health Policy & Management in York's Faculty of Health and an emergency physician in Toronto, "Many doctors claim they aren't influenced by the information provided by pharmaceutical companies. Our research clearly shows that they are – and the influence is negative,"

He points out physicians who are inundated with advertisements from pharmaceutical companies promoting brand name drugs are more likely to prescribe the costly medications and says “patients are the ones getting a raw deal".

Drug Advertising Leads to Higher Costs
The researchers looked at 58 studies starting from the 1960's in Canada, the United States, Europe and Australia, finding that drug advertising leads to higher costs and does not improve physician prescribing practices.

With the exception of one study, the analysis found that drug promotion leads to either no or lower improvement in prescribing quality. "In Canada, companies are estimated to be spending anywhere between $2.4 and $4.75 billion annually on promotion, one of the major reasons why spending on brand name drugs was rising at a rate of just under 10 per cent annually until two years ago," says Lexchin.

Lexchin says it doesn't mean drug promotion is always bad. In some instances prescribing quality might be improved - the observational study just didn't find any evidence.

A shortcoming of the study was lack of randomization. As a solution Lexchin recommends physicians avoid marketing information from drug companies that could influence the way prescriptions are written, resulting in increased medication costs for patients. It should also be noted that many physician practices in the US disallow visits from pharmaceutical drug representatives.

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