Physicians have mixed opinions about consumer-targeted pharmaceutical ads

researchers developed a survey that was mailed to a random, national sample of 1,300 physicians. Respondents were asked about recent visits in which a patient had brought up a medication he or she had seen advertised, including the problems the drug was designed for, whether the patient had that condition, whether the discussion led to a new diagnosis, and whether the DTCA drug or other actions had been prescribed.

They also were asked their overall attitudes about DTCA, reasons why they did or did not prescribe the drug a patient asked about, and whether they predicted a positive or negative outcome for the DTCA drug or other prescribed measures. A total of 642 physicians responded to the survey 31 percent in primary care, 37 percent medical specialists and 31 percent surgical specialists.

Physician attitudes towards DTCA were mixed: 40 percent said they thought the overall effects on patients and physician practices were positive, 30 percent thought the effects were negative, and 30 percent felt there was no effect. More than 70 percent thought DTCA helped educate patients, and 67 percent thought it led to better physician-patient discussions. However, about 80 percent believed that DTCA does not present balanced health information and that it leads patients to seek unnecessary treatment.

In the recent DTCA visits, survey respondents reported prescribing the asked-about medication only 39 percent of the time. In other instances they may have prescribed another medication or test, suggested lifestyle changes or taken no action. The most frequently cited reason for not prescribing the DTCA drug was that another drug was either more effective or equally effective and less expensive. The conditions discussed at DTCA visits included many considered to be of high priority by the public health community including arthritis, high cholesterol, diabetes and depression.

The study addressed the possibility that physicians may be

Contact: Sue McGreevey
Massachusetts General Hospital

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