Pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers: Going beyond the gift – An explorative review

Tom Latten*, Daan Westra, Federica Angeli, Aggie Paulus, Marleen Struss, Dirk Ruwaard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Introduction Interactions between pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers are increasingly scrutinized by academics, professionals, media, and politicians. Most empirical studies and professional guidelines focus on unilateral donor-recipient types of interaction and overlook, or fail to distinguish between, more reciprocal types of interaction. However, the degree of goal alignment and potential for value creation differs in these two types of interactions. Failing to differentiate between these two forms of interaction between pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers could thus lead to biased conclusions regarding their desirability. This study reviews the empirical literature regarding the effects of bilateral forms of interactions between pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers in order to explore their effects. Material and methods We searched two medical databases (i.e. PubMed and Cochrane Library) and one business database (i.e. EBSCO) for empirical, peer-reviewed articles concerning any type of bilateral interaction between pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers. We included quantitative articles which were written in English and published between January 1st, 2000 and October 31st, 2016, and where the title or abstract included a combination of synonyms of the following keywords: pharmaceutical companies, healthcare providers, interaction, and effects. Results Our search results yielded 10 studies which were included in our analysis. These studies focused on either research-oriented interaction or on education-oriented interaction. The included studies reported various outcomes of interaction such as prescribing behavior, ethical dilemmas, and research output. Regardless of the type of interaction, the studies either reported no significant effects or ambivalent outcomes such as affected clinical practice or ethical issues. Discussion and conclusion The effects of bilateral interactions reported in the literature are similar to those reported in studies concerning unilateral interactions. The theoretical notion that bilateral interactions between pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers have different effects given their increased level of goal alignment thus does not seem to hold. However, most of the empirical studies focus on intermediary, provider-level, outcomes such as altered prescribing behavior. Outcomes at the health system level such as overall costs and quality of care are overlooked. Further research is necessary in order to disentangle various forms of value created by different types of interactions between pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0191856
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

© 2018 Latten et al.

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