Why does your doctor prescribe one medication over another? Why does she specify a brand name over the generic version? Because she is acting in your best interest and wants the most effective treatment for your condition, right? Well, we certainly want to believe that’s the case.
But are there other factors at work, including compensation from drug companies? Possibly, according to a new study by the Journal of the American Medical Society. The researchers found that even doctors who accepted just a simple meal valued at $20 from a pharmaceutical rep tended to meet with those reps and write prescriptions for the brand name medicines they peddle. Americans could save $73 billion (!) per year if doctors always chose to prescribe available generic drugs over brand names, according to the report’s authors.
Doctors received $3.5 billion in compensation from pharmaceutical companies between 2009 and 2013, according to the ProPublica newsgathering organization. If you’re curious whether your doc wetted his beak in that huge pot of money, check out ProPublica’s Dollars for Docs database. Of course, receiving money or other compensation from a drug company doesn’t mean a doctor is “on the take.” Some doctors just don’t think about the cost when writing scripts. A co-worker of mine looked up his long-time physician on Dollars for Docs and found that he’s received about $5,000 total from Big Pharma in recent years. That didn’t change my colleague’s opinion of his doctor, whom he believes always acts in his patients’ best medical interest. Still, as with any purchase or relationship, it’s good to have as much information as possible when making decisions about a doctor.
One way to ensure that you aren’t being steered into an expensive drug is to directly ask your doctor if there is a generic version of what she’s prescribed. If she insists on giving you the brand name stuff, ask why.
Just another example of the importance of being actively engaged in your own health care. Nobody cares more about your health – and wallet – than you do!