Drugmakers-frequently-pay-physiciansOut of 28 physicians included in a study published by JAMA, 26 of them received payments from pharmaceutical companies to endorse their products on social media. Most often these payments are noted as food and beverages, speaking, or consulting fees.

Social media endorsements on behalf of pharmaceutical companies is big business. More than 9 out of 10 physicians who posted their support for a drug or medical device on X (formerly Twitter) were paid by drugmakers. These payments totaled $2.46 billion in 2022.

“The conflict of interest may not be apparent to the general social media audience,” researchers said. “These payments can represent scientific collaboration but may involve marketing efforts without scientific benefits, raising concerns regarding their influence on clinical decision-making.”

Researchers used Open Payments, a website run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to verify payment data. Open Payments is a comprehensive database allowing the public to see how much money doctors are receiving from pharmaceutical companies, whether for research, speaking fees, consulting, or other forms of compensation. Some of the key findings from the study include:

  • Twenty-six of the 28 physicians included in the study received payments from pharmaceutical companies for a variety of reasons, most often noted as food and beverages, speaking or consulting fees.
  • The average payment to doctors from drugmakers was around $27,400.
  • Most of Big Pharma’s payments to doctors went toward “speaking,” with some $377,000 paid to 18 physicians for speaking activities.
  • Researchers also pinpointed 24 times in which physicians received payments which were linked to them mentioning a specific drug or medical device on X.
  • Half of the doctors who endorsed drugs on X had no research publications related to the products, and almost half of the physicians did not disclose they were being paid by the drugmakers.
  • The companies paying physicians surveyed in the study included Pfizer, GSK, Eisai, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Exelixis and Boston Scientific.

The United States is one of the few developed countries that permits direct advertising of pharmaceutical products, including on radio, television and social media. Although it is legal for U.S. doctors and health care professionals to receive payments for endorsing drugs, doing so can lead to ethical concerns.

“Physician participation in industry marketing raises questions regarding professionalism and their responsibilities as patient advocates,” researchers concluded. “If the medical profession fails to self-regulate these arrangements, governmental intervention may become necessary to uphold standards.”

If you see a drug being promoted by a physician on social media you can look to see if they are being paid by the drugmaker by visiting Open Payments at: https://openpaymentsdata.cms.gov/