How can pharma fix DTC ads?

In 1997, the FDA opened the flood gates on direct-to-consumer advertising, and thus for the first time allowed drugmakers to promote their products on television. In an editorial in the New York Times, Ian Spatz, a former vice president for global health policy at Merck, observes that while pharmaceutical companies may need the ads, they have also become a burden. And Spatz believes a different approach to DTC advertising needs to be explored.

To be sure, DTC has resulted in some positive change. Ads raise awareness of disease and prompt consumers to talk to their doctor about often sensitive topics. Spatz observes that seeing the ads also reminds those who have already been prescribed a drug to take it. On the flip side, however, some doctors say they feel pressured to prescribe the drugs patients request. And critics say the ads push consumer to ask their doctors for expensive branded drugs, driving up the cost of healthcare.

While Pharma certainly keeps an eye on the bottom line, executives are aware that DTC ads can make drug developers appear to be more concerned with sales than with treating patients. But companies can't forgo the ads; they're driven to keep up with rivals who are also promoting their products on TV. "While big pharma's belief in advertising's benefits--both for their finances and for their customers' health--remains strong, direct-to-consumer ads are expensive, and companies often buy them merely to blunt the impact of their competitors' ads," notes Spatz.

To remedy the issue, Spatz suggests that drugmakers collaborate on disease-focused campaigns that raise awareness of certain conditions and urge patients to talk to their doctors for treatment options. Doing so would cut companies' advertising budgets, end the ridiculous laundry list of frightening side effects mandated by the FDA, and deliver important information to patients.

- read the editorial for more