Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) Drug Advertising — Dr. Peter J. Rice
Direct-to-Consumer Drug Advertising
When discussing equal opportunity hiring years ago, a colleague completely changed my point of view with the idea that “the best person you know is going to be someone you know.” Strong choices are made when you know more about the possible choices.
New drugs are being developed and released all the time. For your prescriber to select the best medicine for you, she or he will choose among the drugs that they know and are comfortable prescribing. As a medical and pharmacy school professor, I know that physicians and pharmacists receive very strong training in physiology and pharmacology, the study of drugs. I also know that once you’re out in practice, new drugs gradually replace old ones, and whole new strategies are discovered for treating common diseases.
Companies will always market their products; that’s the nature of business and sales.
Depending on your viewpoint, you may consider pharmaceutical companies as engaging in ‘education’ or ‘marketing’ of drugs. Whatever you’d prefer to call it, it has changed over the years. In the past it was common for pharmaceutical companies to directly target prescribers and pharmacists to keep them current on new drugs. Certainly, these programs did not emphasize competing products, and commonly included food; sometimes companies went too far and targeted prescribers with gifts which might be linked to prescribing a particular drug.
Prescriber/pharmacist advertising relies on the integrity and good judgment of medical professionals. Today, there are hospitals and prescribers that do not permit drug representatives on site, citing the ethics of having prescribers learn about medications from the company that makes them.
Today, we have direct-to-consumer DTC advertising.
DTC advertising presents information that encourages consumers to consider health conditions and to know about available medications. Remember: the best drug you know – and can request from your prescriber – will be a drug you know.
There are three types of direct-to-consumer advertisements:
- A product claim ad features a branded drug with its safety and effectiveness as a medical treatment. Think of those ads for Viagra® or Cialis® or Crestor® that tell you about the drug, its effectiveness, and a short list of safety concerns. The basic message is that life will be good once you start taking this medication.
- A reminder ad names a branded drug by name without pressing its uses.
- A help-seeking ad mentions a disease or condition without even mentioning a drug. I’ve mentioned the big bad wolf whooping cough ad in an earlier blog; it’s sponsored by the company that makes the whooping cough vaccine.
DTC advertising has its good side and its bad side. It can make patients aware of disease states and conditions, and encourage them to seek help. Some conditions have been completely rebranded and have broad social acceptance because of DTC advertising; it was considered embarrassing for men to discuss “impotence”, but the new term “ED” for erectile dysfunction is commonly discussed. And why not? We know from the DTC advertisements that almost every man has or will have this issue.
DTC advertising relies on the judgement and discretion of patients.
One of the major disadvantages of DTC advertising is that it places the choice of drug in the hands of the patient. After learning that life is good once you start taking the advertised medication, patients request that drug from their prescribers. While many patients will understand a prescriber’s explanation of why that drug may not be the best first choice, other patients will seek other prescribers until they get their chosen medication. Prescribers know this and can feel pressured into prescribing a branded drug when a patient asks, even though another drug might be cheaper and equally effective.
Here’s how to do it right.
- DTC ads can help you learn about new drugs, some of which may be among the first approved for certain medical conditions.
- They’re a great way to open a dialog with your prescriber.
- But be open to other choices for drug treatment as well. If the Crestor® commercial gives you the urge to dance with joy for lower cholesterol, see your doc but consider that there are also generics that may work just as well for you. Then you can lower your cholesterol and you can dance with joy to the bank!
You can discuss any medical condition or medication with your prescriber, and community pharmacists are always available to answer questions about drugs.
Together, they’ll help you understand the benefits and possible adverse effects of your medications, and will monitor your condition to make sure your medications are effective. Take good care of yourself.
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