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Drug Companies Greatly Influence
Doctors’ Prescribing Habits

Drug representatives from pharmaceutical companies greatly influence general practitioners’ (GPs) decisions of whether to prescribe new drugs.

Despite risks that the information may be misleading, biased or inaccurate, the study found that family doctors are more likely to rely on information supplied by drug manufacturers rather than on information from independent sources.

Often, researchers said, GPs relied on the pharmaceutical industry as their major information source.

In the study, researchers asked 107 GPs in northwest England to explain how they made the decision to prescribe certain new drugs. A total of 19 drugs that had been introduced in the United Kingdom between January 1998 and May 1999 were included in the study.

The doctors were asked to describe the context in which they prescribed the new drugs, the reasons why the chose one drug instead of another, and how they obtained the information that influenced their decision.

Most commonly, GPs were initially introduced to new drugs through sales representatives. Other, less influential, sources included newspapers and hospital consultants.

Drug companies were also the greatest influence on the GPs’ decisions of which drugs to prescribe, followed by consultants and patient requests for specific treatments.

About 70 percent of GPs regarded drug representatives as an efficient way to obtain new drug information, according to researchers. While the doctors were generally wary of the drug industry’s objectives, they tended to believe that its information would be selective but accurate.

The GPs reported that they could generally spot misleading information, however, according to study findings only 17 percent of GPs sought out evidence from peer-reviewed journals before making prescribing decisions. Their reasons for not seeking such evidence-based information included lack of time, difficulty in interpretation, irrelevance and lack of attention to clinical experience.

The study warns that pharmaceutical companies have a great influence on GPs and stresses the urgent need for straightforward and reliable drug information from independent sources.

Related articles:

Family Practice January 2003;20:61-68

Reference Source 89


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