Medical device companies pay physicians 7 times more than drug companies do, study finds

Compared to pharmaceutical companies, medical device and supply companies pay seven times more of their total industry revenue to physicians, according to a study published April 5 in Health Affairs

Many physicians receive payments from medical device companies that make products physicians can use or recommend. The payments are controversial because of concerns they may influence physicians to use certain devices for patients even if they're not the best option, the study's authors wrote. 

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and Columbia Business School in New York City, analyzed data by payment type, physician specialty and Medicare billing amount. 

Between 2014 and 2017, medical device vendors paid $904 million to 196,624 physicians per year on average, the study found. 

During the same time period, pharmaceutical vendors paid $821 million to 331,187 physicians. 

Though the dollar amounts are similar, the pharmaceutical industry is much larger than the device industry, the researchers noted. Device companies also paid larger amounts to fewer physicians. 

Payments to physicians represented about 1.7 percent of device industry revenue, more than seven times the 0.24 percent of pharmaceutical industry revenue spent on physician payments.

The top-paying device vendor was Medtronic, followed by Johnson & Johnson and Zimmer Biomet. 

The payments were highly targeted to high-billing physicians in surgical specialties, the researchers wrote. 

The authors noted that the study was limited to physicians participating in Medicare. 

Read the full study here

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