Two-Thirds of Americans See Doctors Paid by Drug Companies, Survey Finds

Patients want their doctors to help them by recommending the most suitable treatments and therapies for their health concerns. 

For that reason, doctors are expected to be independent i.e. to act in the patient’s best interest. 

However, some healthcare professionals are associated with drug companies. 

What does that mean for patients? Does it affect patient care in any way? Read on to find out. 

Survey Reveals Two-Thirds of Americans See Doctors Paid by Drug Companies

Most people in the United States see a doctor paid by drug companies and they’re not aware of it, according to a survey carried out by Drexel University

Generally speaking, a part of the Affordable Care Act called The Physician Payments Sunshine Act requires medical device firms and pharmaceutical companies to report payments they make to physicians. The Act also requires this information to be publicly available.

A team of researchers at Drexel University carried out a survey to estimate how much U.S. patients are exposed to physicians paid by pharmaceutical and medical device companies. The survey included 3,542 subjects.

Of 1987 participants who could be matched to a specific doctor, 65% saw a healthcare provider who received industry payment in the past year. This population-based finding is significantly higher than the physician-reported estimate which showed that 41% of doctors received payments from drug companies. 

Over the course of six months, the percentage of subjects who saw doctors with industry payments ranged from 60% to 85%. That said, only 12% of subjects knew information about industry payments to physicians was available publicly. At the same time, only 5% of patients knew their doctors received those payments.

In a nutshell, this survey showed that two-thirds of patients see doctors that receive payments from pharmaceutical and medical device companies. Even though doctors who receive big pharma payments are in minority, they do care for a substantial portion of the population. 

Some doctors are more likely than others to receive payments from a pharmaceutical company. 

For instance, 85% of patients who visited an orthopedic surgeon actually saw a healthcare professional who was paid by a medical device or drug company. The same happened for 77% of patients who saw an obstetrician or gynecologist.

The implications

Findings from the survey mentioned above point to the existence of several problems. For example, the practice where doctors are paid by industry (pharmaceutical and medical device companies) creates a major difference in their earnings. 

Doctors in the same medical field and healthcare institutions do not receive equal salaries because some of them also get gifts in the form of payments from other companies. 

Additionally, the survey also depicts the lack of patient knowledge on this subject. Many patients aren’t even aware they can access this information publicly. This goes to show little is done to educate patients and show them how to seek the best possible care and most reliable doctors to treat them.

Broken trust in the healthcare system is yet another implication of this research. Considering that many patients see doctors who are paid by drug companies, there could be trust-related concerns. 

A patient is left wondering whether the treatment or therapy option recommended by a doctor is exactly what they need or if the decision is driven by drug company payments. 

How this may affect patient care

Receiving industry payments may affect patient care. For example, Pro Publica analysis found doctors who are paid by drug companies are more likely to prescribe certain drugs. 

This pattern of behavior is consistent for almost all widely prescribed brand-name medications including those for asthma and diabetes. 

Since industry payments influence prescribing of medications, this practice has a major effect on patient care. For instance, a doctor who receives payment from a drug company could prioritize their medications over others, despite lower efficacy. This could affect outcomes in the treatment of various health conditions because many of those medications have severe side effects. They were also more expensive.

Industry money affects prescribing habits of a wide range of medications, including those to manage high cholesterol, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. 

It also affects how many opioids are prescribed. Overprescribing opioid medications contributed significantly to the opioid epidemic in the US.

What patients should do/be aware of

What patients should do is strive to keep informed about this subject. Nowadays, information regarding industry payments to doctors is publicly available. 

You can check online to see whether your doctor has disclosed such information. Additionally, you should change your doctor if you feel like their approach doesn’t work for you and your health. 

Patients can use easy internet access to check and see payment data reported by physicians. Various platforms allow you to do so including Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Association for Medical Ethics, and ProPublica’s Dollars for Docs.

How to choose the right doctor

Choosing the right doctor is easier than it seems when you know what to consider. These tips will help you out:

  • Excellent reputation 
  • Extensive knowledge and expertise
  • Assess your needs and find a doctor who meets them 
  • Opt for a doctor who’s a great communicator 
  • An ideal doctor treats patients with respect and doesn’t judge them
  • The doctor is eager to explain everything to patients and wants to ensure they are informed about treatments and procedures 
  • Doesn’t push for certain medications

Signs you may wish to change your doctor 

What every patient wants is the proper and respectful treatment for their physician. Not every doctor is equally good for you. Some telltale signs indicate you should change your doctor. 

The first sign is that a doctor doesn’t listen to your concerns. They don’t pay attention to your worries about specific treatments and may even interrupt you while you’re explaining your situation. Instead, all they do is prescribe medication and that’s it. 

At the same time, they don’t provide enough information about the risks and side effects of those procedures and medications. As a result, you’re left in the dark. 

Other signs you need a new doctor include:

  • A patronizing or condescending attitude
  • Judgmental behavior
  • Becoming impatient when patients ask questions
  • Providing unhelpful answers
  • Always trying to “sell” something and prescribe medications easily
  • Pushing for expensive brand name drugs and questionable treatment options
  • Failing to consider the patient’s financial situation
  • Health doesn’t improve under their care

Do doctors get paid for prescribing drugs?

Technically speaking doctors aren’t paid to prescribe drugs, but they do receive payments from pharmaceutical and medical device companies for other purposes. 

These include royalties for devices they invented or consulting fees and fees for speaking, accommodation, and other purposes. 

Sometimes drug representatives leave free samples and offer free trials. They may also pay for many other things and perks. 

As a result, a healthcare professional often feels like they need to return the favor to drug firms. In other words, pharmaceutical companies often use psychological tricks and methods to ensure the doctor prescribes their medications to patients over the competitors. 

While these practices don’t imply a doctor is paid specifically to prescribe certain medication, the fact is many of them do. As seen above, doctors are more inclined to prescribe some medications if they are paid by drug companies. 

How do doctors get paid by insurance companies?

Insurance companies tend to pay whatever healthcare professional charges up to the maximum amount they are willing to pay for a specific service. 

Therefore, if a physician bills $100 for an office visit, and the insurance company agrees to pay $65, the doctor gets $65. At the same time, if a physician bills $50 for an office visit, that’s how much they will be paid. 

This explains why many healthcare providers overbill for office visits. There is no penalty for overbilling, which is why uninsured patients are significantly affected by this problem. 

Doctors can decide whether or not to participate in the health insurance program. Those who agree to accept the rates set by the program also accept reimbursements for all services covered by that health insurance e.g. Medicare.


The survey shows most patients see doctors who receive industry payments. Unfortunately, a vast majority of those patients aren’t aware of that despite the fact this information is publicly available. Patient education is vital. That is the only way to seek respectful care and change your doctor if necessary.

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Warning Signs Your Doctor Isn’t Qualified To Help You.


  1. Pham-Kanter, G., Mello, M.M., Lehmann, L.S. et al. Public Awareness of and Contact With Physicians Who Receive Industry Payments: A National Survey. J GEN INTERN MED 32, 767–774 (2017).
  2. Otto, Frank (2017). Two-Thirds of Americans See Docs Who Got Paid by Drug Companies: Study. Drexel News.
  3. Fresques, Hannah (2019). Doctors Prescribe More of a Drug If They Receive Money from a Pharma Company Tied to It. ProPublica. 

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