Social media endorsements on behalf of Big Pharma is big business. More than 9 in 10 physicians who posted their support for a drug or medical device on X were paid by drugmakers, according to a recent study published in JAMA. These payments totaled $2.46 billion in 2022.

"The conflict of interest may not be apparent to the general social media audience," researchers said. "These payments can represent scientific collaboration but may involve marketing efforts without scientific benefits, raising concerns regarding their influence on clinical decision-making."

Researchers used Open Payments, a website run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to verify payment data. Open Payments is a comprehensive database that allows the public to see how much money doctors receive from pharmaceutical companies, whether for research, speaking fees, consulting or other forms of compensation. Among the key findings:

  • Twenty-six of the 28 physicians included in the study received payments from pharmaceutical companies for a variety of reasons, most often noted as food and beverages, speaking or consulting fees.
  • The average payment to doctors from drugmakers was around $27,400.
  • Most of Big Pharma's payments to doctors went toward "speaking," with some $377,000 paid to 18 physicians for speaking activities.
  • Researchers also pinpointed 24 times in which physicians received payments that were linked to them mentioning a specific drug or medical device on X.
  • Half of the doctors who endorsed drugs on X had no research publications related to the products, and almost half of the physicians did not disclose that they were being paid by the drugmakers.
  • The companies that paid physicians surveyed in the study included Pfizer, GSK, Eisai, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Exelixis and Boston Scientific.

Related: UnitedHealth's PBM, Optum RX, launches a more 'transparent' drug pricing model

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