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Fewer (But Still Many) Doctors Have Relationships with Drug Companies

Doctors’ relationships with pharmaceutical companies have long been a source of potential conflict when treating patients. Accepting money, services, or free products from drug companies could compromise a doctor’s advice to patients. Medical schools and hospitals have begun imposing bans on such relationships, and a new study shows a decline in doctor/industry relationships in recent years. However, over 80 percent of doctors surveyed still reported some type of relationship with the drug industry.

To better understand current doctor/industry relationships, Boston researchers performed a national survey of over 2900 primary care physicians (internal medicine, family practice, and pediatrics) and specialists (cardiology, general surgery, psychiatry, and anesthesiology). A total of 1891 physicians completed the survey—about 64 percent. 

Since 2004, the study results showed that the percentage of doctors having relationships with the drug industry decreased significantly. However, almost 84 percent of doctors surveyed reported some type of relationship with industry during the previous year.


  • 63.8% of the doctors received drug samples
  • 70.6% of the doctors received food and beverages
  • 18.3% of the octors received  reimbursements
  • 14.1% of the doctors received payments for professional services

According to some pharmaceutical industry representatives and physicians, doctors work with drug companies to learn about new drug treatments, which is beneficial for patients. However, critics argue that drug companies are marketing to doctors and the practice could influence the type of treatment doctors recommend for patients. Many medical centers have limited doctor/industry relationships in recent years. Moreover, the U.S. government is requiring doctors to disclose their relationships with industry.

According to Eric Campbell, PhD, and his colleagues who conducted the study, the percentage of doctors who reported that drug companies provided them with food and beverages decreased by 12 percent between 2004 and 2009. Moreover, there was a decrease of 15 percent for those accepting drug samples during this time period.


The study was published in the November 8, 2010 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine (Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(20):1820-1826),