The New York Times’ editorial board is right when it notes that direct-to-consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical advertising helps “educate and inform patients about drugs their doctors might not mention, encourage discussions between doctors and patients, and can help patients take more responsibility for their own health care.”
But the rest of the editorial is sparsely informed. For instance, when hailing a small survey that found that “89 percent of the public favors requiring the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] to review prescription-drug ads for accuracy before they are broadcast,” the Times oddly neglects to mention that the FDA does in fact already regulate ads (and under PhRMA’s own DTC principles, our companies provide FDA with the opportunity to review advertisements prior to airing) or the results of FDA’s own survey research results on the opinions of nearly 2,000 working physicians and patients.
If it had, Times readers would have read of FDA’s conclusion that “[b]y and large, DTC advertising seems to increase [patients’] awareness of conditions and treatments, motivate questions for the healthcare provider, and help patients ask better questions. Our data provided no evidence of increased visits as a result of DTC advertising, and few patients reported that DTC advertising motivated physician visits. On the contrary, most people reported that health reasons prompted their visits.”
A more recent survey of patients by Prevention Magazine in 2012, echoes those FDA survey findings that 71 percent of people agree that DTC advertisements “allow people to be more involved with their health care” and 75 percent believe that DTC ads are useful because they “tell people about new treatments.” Prevention’s survey also found that 76 percent of Americans talked to their physicians about a condition after seeing a DTC ad and among those who discussed a specific medicine that was advertised with their physician, only 20 percent received the prescription of the advertised medicine.
DTC advertising is designed to provide scientifically-accurate information to patients so that they are better informed about their health care and treatment options – and there is never any requirement or obligation for physicians to prescribe a particular medication, as was confirmed by 91 percent of physicians in FDA’s survey. Beyond increasing patient awareness of disease (including undiagnosed conditions) and available treatments, DTC advertising has been found to increase awareness of the benefits and risks of new medicines and encourage appropriate use of medicines. In addition, such advertising encourages patients to visit their doctors’ offices for important doctor-patient conversations about health that might otherwise not take place.
And that’s a good thing for patients.
 Prevention Magazine, 2012 Direct to Consumer Advertising Survey
Josephine Martin Josie Martin is Executive Vice President of Public Affairs at PhRMA. In a career spanning over 20 years, she worked on the Senate Finance Committee, The American Red Cross and has touched many facets of healthcare communications, from anti-smoking campaigns and getting America fit to cancer awareness.