Direct to consumer advertising encourages healthy people to believe they need medical attention, writes Barbara Mintzes at the University of British Columbia. Relatively healthy people are targeted because of the need for adequate returns on costly advertising campaigns.
Advertising campaigns can lead to shifts in the pattern of use of healthcare services. In 1998, during a campaign for finasteride (Propecia), visits to US doctors for baldness increased by 79% compared with 1997 levels, to 850,000. Even when the focus in on prevention of serious disease, many advertising campaigns cast too wide a net, adds the author
In late 1999, Americans on average saw nine prescription drug advertisements a day on television. To an unprecedented degree, they portrayed the educational message of a pill for every ill and increasingly an ill for every pill, she concludes.
Evidence shows a substantial under-diagnosis of many of the major diseases and known risk factors for which effective treatments exist, argue Silvia Bonaccorso and Jeffrey Sturchio of the pharmaceutical company, Merck.
At the moment, the pharmaceutical industry, which has perhaps the best information on the medicines they make, is constrained in Europe from communicating this directly to consumers, whereas other people and organisations are free to disseminate information of perhaps dubious quality.
To limit access to product information arbitrarily because of unfounded fears about direct to consumer advertising impinges on the rights of Europeans to have all the information they need to make informed choices about their health, they conclude.