Here's why drug companies spend billions on DTC ads every year: They work. Nearly one-third of Americans ask their docs about a drug they've seen in an ad, and 82 percent of those get a prescription (though sometimes not they one they requested). "Many people get drugs they otherwise wouldn't," said Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which conducted the survey.
Of those whose doctors recommended a drug, 44 percent got the scrip they asked for, while 54 percent got a different prescription. Fifty-seven percent of doctors recommended behavior changes either instead of or in addition to the med. The percentage of people coming away from that conversation with any drug--82 percent--grew from 75 percent in 2005.
So the ads work. The question then becomes, to whose benefit? Some doctors and analysts say the ads lead patients to newer, more expensive meds, driving up healthcare spending. Others say that Madison Avenue's approach to advertising--with good-looking, smiling actors--should be abandoned for a more reasoned approach. Industry types, of course, say the DTC ads simply educate the public about conditions and their remedies. Patients themselves appear to side with drugmakers--by a slim margin, anyway: 53 percent of those surveyed said drug advertising is mostly a good thing, and two-thirds said the ads educate people.