Drug companies hosted more than 314,000 meetings, events and dinners for doctors in 2000, a dramatic increase since the mid-1990s that highlights concerns from some segments of the medical community about the growing influence of pharmaceutical firms in the U.S.
And if the drug-company sales force had its way, pharmaceutical firms would have hosted about twice as many events for doctors, luring them with "informational" campaigns about new drugs that often include lavish dinners, gifts and honoraria.
Indeed, physicians accepted only about 48% of all the event invitations that were part of the pharmaceutical industry's $15-billion-a-year promotion effort last year, according to the study released last week by Scott-Levin, part of Quintiles Transnational Corp., which provides consulting services to more than 100 pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. and abroad.
The comprehensive study, which shows that the number of such drug-company sponsored events has increased by 11% since 1995, comes at a time when the American Medical Association is about to launch a nationwide "educational campaign" to try to curtail the influence of pharmaceutical firms.
Alan Nelson, M.D., a former AMA president who heads a committee that developed the organization's educational initiative, said the study helps highlight the issue of drug-company influence over physicians-at least in the eyes of consumers and patients.
"The perception bothers me as much as the reality, and the perception on the part of the public demands action" Nelson said. "The reason I've been working hard on preparing this educational campaign is because I think everybody will be better off if physicians and the industry are better informed about ethical guidelines."
The Scott-Levin study, called the Physician Meeting and Event Audit, has been conducted since 1993. Among the trends in this year's survey:
* About one-fourth of the event invitations offered continuing medical education credit, but doctors were more likely to accept invitations to meetings without CME credit (52%) than to meetings that provided such a benefit (44%). The study surmised that "physicians have access to CME credits from many other sources, and given their limited time are more likely to be attracted to events for their social and entertainment value."
* More than half of the attendees at restaurant and hotel meetings (51% and 55%, respectively), said they intended to begin or increase prescribing of a promoted product. But only 47% of physicians attending events at "other locations" said they would boost prescribing.
Meredith Art, a spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the industry's Washington-based trade group, defended the expense and focus on marketing.
"We regard pharmaceutical marketing as an essential part of the research and development process," she said. "It brings new products to medical practice, and that's great news for patients. It serves a critical educational role."
Separately, according to a study released last week by the consumer advocacy group Families USA, pharmaceutical companies spend more than twice as much on marketing and administration as they do on research and development.
Market leader Merck and Co. spent 15% of its $40 billion in revenue last year on marketing and administration and 6% on research and development; second-place Pfizer spent 39% of its $29 billion in revenue on marketing and administration and 15% on research and development. Families USA released the report to rebut the drug industry's claim that the high cost of pharmaceuticals is attributable to the expense of developing drugs.