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The power of drug advertising: Patients often get what they ask for

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) prescription drug advertising a $3.2 billion industry in the United States not only sways patients to ask for certain medications, but profoundly influences the way doctors make initial treatment decisions, according to an April 27 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

University of Rochester Medical Center Professor Ronald M. Epstein, M.D., had a lead role in the research, which focused on antidepressants, as they consistently rank among the top advertised drugs. The study showed that doctors prescribed antidepressants far more often when patients asked for them. Furthermore, the study revealed that consumer advertising may have competing effects on health-care quality, by promoting the overuse of drugs in some cases while also averting under use and raising consumer awareness of disease.

The study was a collaborative effort between the UR Department of Family Medicine and University of California, Davis, Center for Health Services. The corresponding author is Richard L. Kravitz, M.D., MSPH, at UC/Davis.

"One thing is clear: patients can prompt physicians to provide better care. Drug ads are one way of getting patients to prompt their physicians but it is not the best way," Epstein says. "When patients brought up non-commercial information they were more likely to get the correct treatment than if they brought up the drug advertisement."

The study was conducted from May 2003 to May 2004. The research team trained actors to pose as patients for the randomized trial, in which 298 visits were made to 152 primary care and general internists offices in Rochester, Sacramento and San Francisco. The actors surreptitiously audio-recorded the visits with small devices hidden in their purses. Doctors were recruited to take part and were reimbursed $100 per visit, plus $100 for completing surveys and $75 for staff expenses. When doctors agreed to participate and to being secretly audio-recor
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Contact: Mark Michaud
mark_michaud@urmc.rochester.edu
585-273-4790
University of Rochester Medical Center
26-Apr-2005


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