As a company who specializes in medical marketing, we at McCauley Marketing Services know how much patients can benefit from being informed about their health. But are ads for prescription drugs really informing patients, or are they hurting more than they’re helping? This debate has long been a point of conversation in the medical field, but the American Medical Association (AMA) kicked it up a notch in November when they released a statement officially supporting a ban on direct-to-consumer (DTC) ads for prescription-only drugs. Still, the decision itself is up to the US congress, who would need to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which currently allows for DTC ads as long as they do not portray false or misleading information. We’ve taken a closer look at both sides of the advertising debate, so you can decide for yourself. Here’s a rundown of the most common arguments each side has offered:
In support for DTC ads for prescription drugs:
- The US Constitution protects pharmaceutical companies’ right to free speech, which includes advertising their products.
- There are some legal precedents in which courts ruled that “truthful information” about medicine has public value and therefore shouldn’t be limited.
- The ads spread public knowledge about and comfort with potentially embarrassing health conditions, which reduces the stigma associated with them.
- DTC ads may encourage patients to seek medical advice.
- The ads educate the public about symptoms and conditions which they may not have known were treatable.
- The revenue pharmaceutical companies gain from consumers who see the medical marketing ads provides funding for the research and development of new medications.
In opposition to DTC ads for prescription drugs:
- The ads are driving up overall medical costs because patients are opting for the brand-name drugs they’ve seen ads for, as opposed to more affordable generics.
- Though the information in the ads may be truthful, some feel it is presented in a way that emphasizes or overestimates the benefits of the drug while de-emphasizing the side effects and negative points. As a result, patients may develop unrealistic expectations.
- Even though an ad is FDA-approved, it can take years of use to truly know the long-term effects of a new drug, and these ads may encourage patients to request new medications before a doctor is comfortable with their long-term safety and effectiveness.
- The ads may convince patients that completely normal and healthy changes are symptoms of a serious condition, encouraging them to seek medical treatment they don’t actually need. As a result, some doctors believe the ads contribute to the overuse of prescription drugs for medical conditions which are harmless or which can be resolved with lifestyle changes.
- When a patient is convinced that they know what medication they need based on ads they’ve seen, it may force the doctor to spend valuable appointment time explaining why they are prescribing a different option, and may harm customer relationship management by making patients mistrust their doctor’s expertise.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends banning DTC ads for prescription-only drugs, and the US and New Zealand are currently the only countries where these ads are legal.
It’s an intriguing debate, and one which clearly has powerful implications for both patients and the medical industry alike. What are your thoughts? Do DTC ads for prescription drugs have an overall positive or negative effect, or is there a potential compromise? Join the conversation and follow McCauley Marketing Services on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to share your opinion.