Direct-to-Consumer Advertising Set to Grow Exponentially. (Few Ads Describe Specific Drug Benefits)

Article excerpt

SEATTLE -- Like it or not, direct-to-consumer advertising is here to stay Karen Gunning, Pharm.D., said at a conference on patient education.

In the first 6 months of 2000, drug companies spent $1.3 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising on television and in print media, said Dr. Gunning, a pharmacist with the University of Utah, Salt Lake City.

"This is a business that is going to grow at an exponential rate," she predicted. "The only benefit I see right now is that it motivates consumers to pursue further information about a product or the disease it claims to cure or help."

But there is concern that consumers will decide, based on advertising, that a particular drug is best for them and insist on a prescription for it. "Consumers are forming an opinion based on ads, and they're expecting that we will agree with the pharmaceutical advertisers," Dr. Gunning said.

Providers shouldn't learn about new drugs from ads in a medical journal. This information should come from studies they've read or from information that is credible and objective.

Dr. Gunning referred to a recent content analysis of pharmaceutical advertisements in major American magazines. Dr. Steven Woloshin and his associates at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, White River Junction, Vt., examined seven issues of 10 magazines that were published between July 1998 and July 1999. The titles included Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, GQ, Ladies' Home Journal, Men's Health, Newsweek, People, Sports Illustrated, and Time (Lancet 358[9288]:1141-46, 2001).

The magazines carried a total of 211 pharmaceutical ads, with a median of 2.5 ads per issue. Most of the ads (63%) were for symptom relief from conditions such as menopause and allergies. Few of the ads explicitly described the benefit of the drugs; most described the benefit in vague, qualitative terms. …

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