What really drove the AMA's vote to ban DTC? A former Lilly marketing exec has an idea

Back in November, the American Medical Association voted to ban all direct-to-consumer advertising for drugs, citing physician concerns over the "negative impact of commercially driven promotions and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices."

Richard Meyer

But the way former Eli Lilly ($LLY) marketing exec and industry consultant Richard Meyer sees it, there's something else going on. Insurers are "taking more prescription writing power away from doctors" by steering them toward low-cost generics, he wrote in an editorial for STAT. And higher copays for insurance and office visits "mean consumers are 'shopping' for healthcare and healthcare treatments."

The result? Docs are uncomfortable--and trying to take back the reins when it comes to prescribing. And the AMA ban is their solution.

But they needn't worry, Meyer says. As a Government Accountability Office report from November 2006 found, only 2% to 7% of patients who request a drug after viewing a DTC ad ultimately received a script for that treatment.

A later study, conducted in 2010 by Prevention magazine, found that 79% of queried patients said they sought a specific product. Yet only 19% actually wound up getting it.

"Even with all these changes, research continually validates the notion that patients view their doctors as the gatekeepers to their prescription medicines. If a doctor doesn't feel it's right for the patient, then they won't write for it," Meyer wrote.

The AMA sees things differently. DTC advertising inflates demand for new and expensive therapies, it says--and potentially those that patients don't need. The association plans to create a physician task force and launch an advocacy campaign, with a mission of championing drug availability and affordability by "demanding choice and competition" and pushing for transparency about drug costs from pharma companies.

For his part, Meyer maintains that it doesn't have to go that far. If the AMA has a problem with DTC, it "should reach out and work with pharma to improve DTC marketing, not request a ban on all DTC ads," he wrote.

- here's the STAT editorial

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