Medical journals should ban drug adverts, say researchers

"By accepting only advertisements for drugs and medical devices, medical journals have accepted an exclusive and dependent relationship with pharmaceutical companies," says a team of researchers in an investigation published in PLoS Medicine.

Adriane Fugh-Berman and colleagues (Georgetown University School of Medicine) examined advertising in nine multi-specialty medical journals, chosen because they receive the most advertising revenue (in 2002, $221 million was spent on advertising in multi-specialty journals, almost ten times the amount spent on the runner-up, internal medicine journals).

In eight of these journals the advertisements were almost exclusively for drugs, rather than for cars, computers, vacations, or other products of potential interest to doctors (the exception was PLoS Medicine, which has a ban on publishing drug advertisements). A detailed analysis of the advertisements in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), for example, found that 99% (211 out of 214) of the advertisements in the year 2004 were for pharmaceuticals.

Drug companies place a high value on advertising in medical journals, say Fugh-Berman and colleagues, because research has shown that such advertising increases prescriptions for targeted drugs in a dose-related manner. Drug companies get a huge return on investment (ROI) from these adverts--one study found that the ROI (the average increase in revenues per incremental dollar spent in any give month) was $5.00.

It is clear why drug companies advertise in medical journals, but Fugh-Berman and colleagues wanted to understand why these journals exclude other types of advertisements. They hypothesized that perhaps it was only drug companies that could afford to buy journal advertising space. In fact, their investigation found that medical journal advertisements are cheaper than those in consumer magazines, and medical journals sometimes emphasize their cheap advertisement rates w

Contact: Andrew Hyde
Public Library of Science

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