Ban DTC or fix it? Docs sound off about patient confusion over ads

Doctors in U.S. say pharma DTC ads confuse patients and recommend banning or changing them.

Confused by pharma ads? You’re not alone. Almost two-thirds of U.S. physicians say their patients don’t understand pharma DTC advertising.

A new survey from healthcare market researcher InCrowd found that 65% of doctors say their patients get confused by pharma ads. In fact, only 13% of physicians believe "most" of their patients understand the information in pharma ads.

Not surprisingly, more than one-third (35%) of those same physicians think DTC should be banned, with 49% saying advertisements impairs patients’ understanding of treatment.

They're not the only ones who would like to see a ban on DTC. In November 2015, the American Medical Association voted for one for all drugs and medical devices. Since then, a national pharmacist group has also added its voice to the discussion.

The ads do generate conversations, though, according to doctors surveyed by InCrowd. They told InCrowd that they are asked an average of six times per week about something a patient has seen in DTC advertising compared with just twice a week five years ago. And the way InCrowd president and cofounder Diane Hayes sees it, that's a positive. 

“If there is confusion among consumers with this type of advertising and they go to their physicians and have a conversation, the bottom line is that’s a really good thing. The fact that it’s generating discussions between patients and physicians around diseases, treatment options, the path of their disease—all of that is good for our society as a whole,” she told FiercePharma.

With the average age of physicians surveyed being 48, the findings might be a bit generational, she said. Older doctors remember—and long for—the days before DTC ads were allowed in the U.S.

“I would suspect in the next generation of physicians to come through that probably won’t even be on their minds because they grew up with direct to consumer advertising and that’s just the landscape that they live in,” Hayes said.

And although banning ads was the No. 1 suggestion when asked how they would improve DTC ads, the rest of the physicians gave their suggestions on how to improve advertising. In answer to the open-ended question, their suggestions included giving more patient education (31%), simplifying the message (17%), providing explanations of side effects (7%) and including cost information (3%). The other 7% said they would make no change.