Have you ever accepted a free pen, dinner, or trip from a pharmaceutical company in “reward” for prescribing their drugs?

Despite expanding institutional conflict-of-interest policies and state laws preventing the undue influence that gifts from pharma companies can have on physicians, companies continue to do it. Why do some physicians accept these handouts? A study published by researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that physicians rationalize their acceptance of such gifts as a form of reward for the sacrifices they made obtaining their education.

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Over 300 pediatric and family medicine residents answered a survey about the acceptability of receiving gifts from pharmaceutical companies.  Some of the doctors were first asked about the sacrifices they made in getting their medical education before answering the questions. Another group was asked about the sacrifices and then asked whether such sacrifices could potentially justify accepting gifts — being introduced to the idea of rationalizing the acceptance before completing the survey. The control group was only asked about the acceptability of receiving gifts without being asked about their personal sacrifices.

Reminding physicians first of their medical training burdens more than doubled their willingness to accept gifts — from 21.7% to 47.5%, and suggesting the rationalization in addition to reminding them of their medical training burdens increased their willingness to 60.3%.

Do you agree with the findings?