Intended for healthcare professionals


US drug marketing: how does promotion correspond with health value?

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: (Published 02 May 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j1855
  1. Tyler Greenway, medical student1,
  2. Joseph S Ross, associate professor of medicine and public health2 3 4
  1. 1Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
  2. 2Section of General Internal Medicine and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
  3. 3Department of Health Policy and Management, Yale University School of Public Health
  4. 4Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, Yale–New Haven Hospital
  1. Correspondence to: J S. Ross joseph.ross{at}

Tyler Greenway and Joseph S Ross assess the effectiveness, usefulness, and affordability of the drugs that get the heaviest promotion

The pharmaceutical industry uses a variety of techniques to promote its products to clinicians, including gifts and free food, advertisements, and detailing by company representatives. Although manufacturers might argue that drug promotion supports physician education, which in turn leads to more informed prescribing, studies have shown that greater contact with drug sales representatives is associated with an increased likelihood of prescribing brand name medications when cheaper alternatives exist.12 More recent studies have shown that payments from drug companies are associated with a greater likelihood of prescribing promoted drugs.345

In the United States, physicians have extensive financial relationships with the drug industry.67 However, since August 2013, the Physician Payments Sunshine Act requires that the industry publicly discloses all payments to physicians of $10 (£8; €9) or more or $100 on aggregate. This legislation led to the creation of the Open Payments Database, which archives all industry payments to individual physicians and teaching hospitals.8

Early analyses of the database show that numerous small gifts can often add up to large sums of money,910 potentially creating powerful incentives for physicians to prescribe selected drugs. Between August 2013 and December 2014, $3.53bn was paid to 681 432 physicians in the US by 1630 pharmaceutical companies to promote numerous drug products. We assessed the health “value” of drugs being most aggressively promoted to physicians to better understand implications of pharmaceutical promotion for patient care.

Assessing drugs’ value

We obtained data on the top promoted drug products from the Open Payments Explorer, created by the non-profit investigative journalism group ProPublica to make the Open Payments database more easily accessible to consumers.11 We identified the 25 drugs associated with the …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription