69% of Americans currently taking medication say drugmakers have too much influence over doctors’ prescribing decisions and half say that doctors are too eager to prescribe a drug when other non-drug options are available for managing a condition, according to a new survey.

51% of consumers told the poll - conducted by the US Consumer Reports National Research Center - that doctors do not consider a patient’s ability to pay when prescribing a drug, while 47% believe that gifts from pharmaceutical companies influence doctors’ choices of drugs for their patients and 41% think doctors tend to prescribe newer, more expensive drugs. 45% of Americans take at least one prescription drug on a regular basis and, on average, they take four medications routinely, the survey reports.

It also reveals that US consumers are economising on healthcare in ways that might be dangerous. In the past year, 39% of interviewees said they took some action to reduce costs and 27% failed to comply with prescriptions, while 38% of those aged under 65 and without insurance coverage for prescription drugs said they had skipped filling a prescription in order to save money.

Consumer Reports adds that the findings show that drug companies’ “massive advertising budgets” have an impact on consumers, with 20% of those polled who take a prescription drug saying they have asked their doctor for a drug they saw advertised, and that among them, the majority of doctors had issued the requested prescription (59%).

Patients also want more safety information and details about possible side effects; 87% of those polled said that knowing the safety of a prescription drug was a top priority for them, 79% were concerned about drug interactions and 78% cared about the side effects of a drug.

These findings were welcomed by John Santa, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, who said that being attuned to these concerns “can help counterbalance the tremendous influence of the drug companies.”

At least 1.5 million serious, preventable drug errors occur in the US each year, yet research suggests that doctors are quick to dismiss complaints about side effects, he said. Also, the safety information provided in hospitals, at doctors’ offices and at the pharmacy is “hit or miss,” he added.

“When considering a new medication, consumers should ask their doctors about the drug in question, its purported use, how it should be taken, whether certain activities should be avoided, whether drug interactions are possible and the types of side effects that could occur,” said Dr Santa, who urges patients to “speak up - discussing the risks of adverse effects with your doctor will help you prepare for those effects while increasing the chances you'll stay on the drug you need.”