DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER ADS: Educational or Deceptive?
Two experts debate the pros and cons of direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, with one concluding DTC ads improve public health and the other asserting they mislead the public and undermine the patient-doctor relationship. Alan Holmer, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, writes that DTC advertising "is an excellent way to meet the growing demand for medical information, empowering consumers by educating them about health conditions and possible treatments." Citing a Prevention Magazine study conducted last year, Holmer notes that the ads prompted more patients to talk to their doctors about medication and subsequently to receive prescriptions. This is beneficial, according to Holmer, because "a number of leading diseases are underdiagnosed and undertreated." Referring to critics who charge DTC ads "dictate the outcome of the physician visit or the kind of help patients eventually receive," Holmer asserts that DTC advertising "merely motivates patients to learn more about medical conditions and treatment options and to consult their physicians. Once the dialogue is started, the physician's role is preeminent. The patient has been empowered with information, not prescribing authority" (Holmer, 1/27 issue).
Not Candid on Camera
Dr. Matthew Hollon of the University of Washington in Seattle believes otherwise, writing that the financially motivated pharmaceutical industry "is providing information of suspect quality and thus minimal benefit." He contends that the public health value of DTC advertising is "negligible," as it provides consumers with poor quality information of "little educational benefit." Citing a Consumer Reports study that concluded DTC ads "are not public service messages -- they're meant to move goods," Hollon notes that less than half of DTC advertisements reviewed by Consumer Reports were "candid about efficacy." What's more, Hollon argues that the costs -- "an increase in expenditures, improper use of drugs and harm from adverse events" -- of DTC advertising make it downright "undesirable." Further, the "principal effect" of DTC advertising "is to create consumer demand, changing the physician-patient relationship to a physician-consumer relationship." By creating consumer demand, "DTC marketing undermines the protections that is a result of requiring a physician to certify a patient's need for a prescription drug." Hollon concludes that for "the benefit of patients, physicians and the public's health, the FDA should consider stricter -- not more permissive -- regulations" on DTC advertising (1/27 issue).