Viewers skeptical of DTC ads, but they drive people to docs anyway

KFF CEO Drew Altman

It's a mixed bag of pharma advertising news from the Kaiser Family Foundation's monthly health-tracking poll.

On the positive side, 60% of Americans think prescription drug advertising is mostly a good thing. The less-good news is that 51% also think pharma spends too much money on advertising.

When it comes to content, there were more mixed results. About half of consumers say drug ads do a good job talking about their benefits and the side effects. However, only 24% of consumers say the ads are good at explaining drug effectiveness compared with other treatments, and only 11% say they're good at conveying information about typical costs.

As Drew Altman, president and chief executive officer of the Kaiser Family Foundation, wrote in a Wall Street Journal article, "It's a mixed picture on drug ads and we don't have enough information to say if we would be better off with or without them. But in the end, the public would like greater assurance that drug ads are accurate.

"A striking 89% of the public, including 90% of Republicans, would like the FDA to review drug ads for accuracy and clarity before they run, which the FDA does not do today."

Like some other studies, the Kaiser poll also found that DTC advertising does drive a meaningful number of people to talk to their doctors. Twenty-eight percent of ad viewers have asked their doctor about them. But that doesn't mean they always get the drug. After asking, some doctors recommended a lifestyle change (15%), some recommended a different drug (14%) and some recommended an over-the-counter choice (11%), while just 12% of doctors gave the consumers the drug from the ad they asked about.

"A significant number of people go to their doctors and ask for a specific drug because they've seen an ad, but only some people get the drugs after their physicians sort through treatment options with them. Based on a survey of the public, we can't say how often this is a good thing or a bad thing medically; we almost certainly can say that more drugs are prescribed as a result of the ads," Altman wrote.

- read the KFF poll results
- see WSJ post

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