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Doctor-industry relations down, but still strong

by Brendon Nafziger , DOTmed News Associate Editor
Increasing media scrutiny, congressional investigations and a down economy have taken their toll on doctor-industry relationships, but they remain strong, according to the results of a new survey.

A report published Tuesday in the Archives of Internal Medicine said the number of doctors receiving drug samples, food and drinks, paid trips for meetings or continuing medical education events, speaking fees and other forms of compensation dropped 12 percent between 2004 and 2009. Nonetheless, nearly 84 percent of doctors admitted some kind of physician-industry relationship, or PIR.

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"PIRs have been decreasing in the United States - at least for the last five years," wrote the researchers in the study, led by Eric G. Campbell, with the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. "However, given that 83.8 percent of physicians have PIRs, it is clear that industry still has substantial financial links with the nation's physicians."

The researchers say the findings "support the ongoing need for a national system of disclosure of PIRs."

In the survey of 1,891 U.S. doctors, the researchers found that in 2009 fewer doctors reported industry connections. However, there were still strong links: two-thirds received drug samples, almost three-fourths got refreshments, one-fifth reimbursements and one-seventh payments for professional services.

Physician specialty and practice type both influenced the likelihood of having an industry relationship, the researchers said. Doctors in medical schools were less likely to receive drug samples and gifts than those in one- or two-person practices. However, they were more likely to receive payments, the authors said. Cardiologists were also more likely than psychiatrists, for instance, to have an industry relationship, although the researchers cautioned this could have been skewed by the small number of heart doctors who responded to the survey.

Still, the researchers said one key statistic had declined sharply: the number of meetings each month between drug company representatives and doctors dropped by about one-third, from three meetings a month in 2004 to around two per month in 2009. The reason is unknown - the researchers suggest it could be because doctors are increasingly pressed for time, institutional policies forbid such face-to-face interactions, or that, with gift restrictions in place, doctors could be less eager for the meetings.

"Regardless of the explanation, our data signal the decrease of the predominant industry marketing strategy of giving inducements to physicians in exchange for their time and attention," the researchers said.

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