Most physicians responding to a survey by researchers based at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) indicated that direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of pharmaceuticals can contribute to better patient education and communication, although it may also lead patients to seek unnecessary treatments. In their paper issued online by the journal Health Affairs, the investigators from the MGH Institute for Health Policy (MGH IHP) report that patient-initiated discussions of a DTCA drug were often about high-priority health conditions and led to prescriptions for that medication in about two out of five such visits.
"Fears that direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals would lead to overuse of expensive drugs has led to calls for stricter limits on ads, but until now there has been very little information on the effect of DTCA on health or health care, says Joel S. Weissman, PhD, of the MGH IHP, the report's lead author. "This study allowed physicians to report on their actual experiences with DTCA and to say whether they prescribed certain drugs in order to accommodate their patients wishes when other equally effective drugs were available."
Until the mid-1990s, efforts to market prescription drugs were almost exclusively targeted at physicians. Following clarification of Food and Drug Administration regulations in 1997, advertising targeted at consumers has grown radically more than doubling in the following three years. This increase has been quite controversial, with several individuals and organizations expressing concern that DTCA could lead to inappropriate prescriptions and contribute to rising health care costs. In 2003 the same research team, including colleagues from Harvard University and research firm Harris Interactive, published a study of patient experiences with DTCA, concluding that such advertisements could lead to valuable discussions with physicians and finding no adverse long-term effects.
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Contact: Sue McGreevey
Massachusetts General Hospital
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