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US direct-to-consumer advertising ambiguous in communication of drug benefits

US consumers are given incomplete prescription-drug information in advertising campaigns directed to them, report Dartmouth Medical School/Veterans Affairs physicians.

Pharmaceutical companies spent $1.8 billion on direct-to-consumer advertisements for prescription drugs in 1999. Drs. Steven Woloshin, Lisa Schwartz, both assistant professors and H. Gilbert Welch, professor of medicine and of community and family medicine, from Dartmouth Medical School and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (White River Junction, VT) investigated what messages these advertisements communicated to the public. Their study, published in the October 6 issue of The Lancet (p 1141) highlights how consumers can be ill informed.

Reaction to direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs is mixed; proponents argue that it provides consumers with information about treatment options, and might help to increase public awareness and treatment of serious diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or depression. Opponents express concern that such advertisements might inappropriately increase patient demand for specific (and often costly) agents, which might have a negative effect on medical practice and on the physician-patient relationship.

The investigators assessed prescription-drug advertising in 10 leading magazines. They included four women's magazines (Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal, Better Homes & Gardens, Good Housekeeping), three men's magazines (Sports Illustrated, Men's Health, Gentleman's Quarterly) and three general population magazines (Time, Newsweek, People).

Woloshin comments: "We selected 10 popular magazines with large circulations and varied readership to study. Consumers are increasingly exposed to direct-to-consumer advertisements for prescription products. In turn, physicians are increasingly confronted with patients who ask questions, or who make suggestions, on the basis of these advertisements. We hope that ou
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Contact: DMS Communications
hali.wickner@dartmouth.edu
603-650-1520
Dartmouth Medical School
4-Oct-2001


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