A frank look at drug rep sponsored lunch lectures by Dr. Daniel Carlat, and how easy it is to become a lackey of the big machine. As any health professional will tell you, free lunches and 'educational gifts' go with the territory. In my short career as a resident, I have already received lots of free food, pens, books, mugs, wall-clocks and even a pedometer as a 'educational gift.' A lot of these were pass-ons by relatives and friends rather than the drug-reps themselves, but we all knew where they came from. It said so in bold letters on the product.
There was a conference about sponsored lunches and gifts in our department, where their possible influence on our decision making was discussed. Several residents said that they just ate the food and grabbed the goodies, often forgetting to associate the product with the gift. (Yes, and Pavlov was my uncle.) Its rather simple. If I have attended a good lunch with my favorite middle eastern food, shot the breeze with the drug rep, heard his spiel and even vaguely looked at the studies he's carrying, his drug is going to be among the top three that flash in my head when I'm making a decision. It may or may not influence me, but I remember it first because I just heard about it.
Now, if I have heard about it from an Attending physician, who in most cases I know well/respect, it will definitely carry a lot more weight. And if an attending had made light of the potential side effects, re-enforced the advantages and cited well-respected studies as evidence, I will definitely be using that drug more, especially in patients with fewer comorbidities and a wide range of possible choices. No matter where you work, all psychiatrists have their 'pet meds', and usually these are the medications that they 'speak about'. Its classical conditioning, and it spreads.
I've gotten rid of all the goodies with drug names on them (except for the pens, hey, I am only human, and I go through several pens a day) and usually skip drug lunches. Because, the fact remains, there are no free gifts, especially not in the marketing world.