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Reciprocation in Big Pharma

There is a reason drug companies increased spending on marketing to physicians: reciprocation. Research indicates that a positive correlation has been found between the cost of physicians’ treatment choices and their amount of contact with pharmaceutical company representatives. Interestingly enough, pharmaceutical companies know that gifts influence physicians, which is why many restrict their own employees from accepting even small gifts.

Physicians view small gifts as ethically more acceptable than large gifts and letters sent to medical journals assert that small gifts do not affect physician judgment toward a product. This reveals a belief that small gifts are not tempting enough to influence physicians’ prescription choices, as if physicians are making a deliberate trade-off between the cost of bias and the benefit of reward.

This deliberate choice view is inconsistent with social science research, which shows that even when individuals try to be objective, their judgments are subject to an unconscious and unintentional self-serving bias. When individuals have a stake in reaching a particular conclusion, they weight arguments in a biased fashion that favors a specific conclusion. By subtly affecting the way the receiver evaluates claims made by the gift giver, small gifts may be surprisingly influential.

Bottom Line: As far as perceptions of fairness are concerned, individuals’ judgments of what is fair are typically biased in favor of their self-interests. Of course, physicians rationalize….

Source: A Social Science Perspective on Gifts to Physicians From Industry, The Journal Of The American Medical Association, Vol. 290 No. 2, July 9, 2003.