New Studies Demonstrate the Public Health Benefits of Communications About Medicines

New Studies Demonstrate the Public Health Benefits of Communications About Medicines

Last week we noticed two new studies that demonstrate the health benefits of communication about innovative medicines to patients. These studies add to the evidence that direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertisements help patients discuss new treatment options with their doctors and nurses. Several older studies, including one conducted by the FDA have concluded that high percentages of physicians agree that DTC advertising increases awareness about possible treatments. However, the two new studies examine the effects of prescription drug advertising on the appropriate use of medicines and physician prescribing. And both seem to provide good news.

In the first study, published in the journal Cancer, Dr. Gregory Abel and his colleagues at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute examined use of aromatase inhibitor (AI) therapy for breast cancer and the impact of DTC advertising. The authors note at the outset that "The aromatase inhibitors (AIs) are a class of oral breast cancer therapies that reduce the risk of cancer recurrence in postmenopausual women (appropriate use) but not in premenopausal women (inappropriate use), because they do not effectively suppress ovarian estrogen production." The article examined the prevalence of DTC advertising with the "appropriate" and "inappropriate" use of these medicines. Dr. Abel and colleagues found that DTC advertising for the AIs was associated with increases in "appropriate" prescriptions with no significant effect on inappropriate prescriptions. Thus, the advertisements appeared to help enable appropriate patients to have conversations with their physicians and receive the right breast cancer treatment.

The second study was conducted by economist Jayani Jayawardhana of the University of Georgia and published in the International Journal of Industrial Organization. In her study, Dr. Jayawardhana calculated the impact on consumer welfare that results from changes in demand for cholesterol-reducing drugs due to increased advertising. The paper concludes that "the presence of [DTC advertising] results in an increase in consumer welfare in the cholesterol reducing drug market. The results also indicate the informative role of [advertising] on the decision to seek health care which is consistent with previous findings in the literature. Furthermore, the results suggest that physician advertising could be both informative and persuasive on the choice of the drug, although the magnitude of the persuasive effects seems to be very small. Finally, results also support informative effects of physician advertising on quantity choice of the drug."

While both of these studies focus on distinct therapeutic areas and use different analytical methods, the conclusions are quite similar: DTC advertising of medicines can help patients begin important conversations with their healthcare professionals, thus leading to appropriate treatment and ultimately, better health outcomes. That's something that all of us who are concerned about public health should applaud.

You can view PhRMA's Guiding Principles on Direct to Consumer Advertising about Prescription Medicines here: http://www.phrma.org/sites/default/files/631/phrmaguidingprinciplesdec08final.pdf

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