Viewing DTC Ads Fairly

Viewing DTC Ads Fairly

01.27.12 | By

Yesterday, the New York Times' Well blog posted a commentary on DTC advertising. Although its underlying tone was one of skepticism, it did briefly touch on a couple of useful points.

For example, the article noted: "It's difficult to ascertain whether efforts aimed directly at consumers ultimately translate into real sales. A recent marketing study found that fewer than 3 percent of patients mentioned a marketed drug by name and less than 1 percent asked for a prescription."

This gets to the heart of the issue of DTC advertising - enhancing patient awareness and care.

Research has shown that DTC encourages patients to talk to their doctors about previously undiagnosed or untreated conditions. To this end, a recent surveyconducted for Prevention Magazine found that 29 million patients spoke with their physicians about a health condition for the first time after seeing DTC ads. During those conversations, most patients discuss behavioral and lifestyle changes, and more than half receive recommendations for OTC or generic drugs.

Akin to the research cited in the NYT piece, the survey found that only a small percentage of people request a specific medication after seeing a DTC ad. In other words, a patient's request does not mean that a prescription is automatically written. In reality, many factors influence a physician's prescribing decisions, including their clinical knowledge, the patient's specific situation, articles in peer-reviewed journals, clinical practices guidelines and more. As patients, would we want it any other way?

The NYT post also quotes a sociologist expressing concern that pharmaceutical and other health-related companies have too much influence on patient care "because it's our health and the quality of our lives that are at stake."

It's precisely because the health and quality of our lives are at stake that physicians need to be equipped with the most up-to-date information about the medicines they consider prescribing, and that patients should be encouraged to discuss health concerns with their doctors.

I have a hard time arguing with those who decry the volume of DTC ads. But it's important to put these ads, which have evolved tremendously over the last decade, into a fair perspective. Are they marketing tools? Yes, of course. But they also can play a valuable educational role.

Lastly, I'd be shirking my job if I didn't remind you of the voluntary, meaningful commitment that PhRMA and its members have made to help ensure that DTC advertisements "provide accurate, accessible and useful health information to patients and consumers," as laid out in our Principles. A fine read for a Friday afternoon.

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