Merrill Matthews

First published May 17th, 2001

Many health policy experts believe that direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising by pharmaceutical companies misinforms gullible consumers, encourages drug overconsumption, increases health care costs, strains doctor-patient relationships and undermines the quality of patient care. For example:

  • The American College of Physicians and the American Society of Internal Medicine (ACP-ASIM) in a joint policy statement wrote, “We are concerned that advertising will result in increased consumption of these [highly advertised] drugs; though their use may be neither appropriate nor necessary.”1 The organizations also wrote, “Many times, physicians will give in to the demand and when they don’t, often patients will ‘doctor shop’ until they find a physician who will prescribe the medication.”2
  • Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) also questioned the growth of DTC. “Is the information value worth the yearly increases in drug costs that advertising inevitably causes? Are patients getting the best individual choices of medicines or just the best-advertised ones? Are generic drugs, often an excellent cost-effective alternative, getting equal consideration?”3
  • Dr. Phillip Alper of the University of California at San Francisco, responding to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) by Alan F. Holmer, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), wrote, “Holmer plays down the inflationary effect of DTC advertising, with which the costliest drugs are pitched with all the skill that the advertising budgets of pharmaceutical companies can buy.…Nor does Holmer discuss the effect on physicians who become involuntary appendages of manufacturers’ public relations departments as they field questions inspired by print and television drug ads.”4
  • Dr. David Kessler, while commissioner of the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), responding to a 1992 study that found 57 percent of 109 pharmaceutical advertisements had little or no educational value, said, “ It heightens awareness of the degree to which misleading information may pervade the ‘informational marketplace.’”5
  • Finally, members of the Committee on Bioethical Issues of the Medical Society of the State of New York wrote, “Direct drug advertising provides no real benefit to patients, is potentially harmful, and is costly. We therefore urge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to review and strengthen its policies concerning this practice.”6

Are these criticisms accurate? In some cases, yes. For example, DTC advertising does encourage more drug consumption — which can lower some health care costs when drug therapy precludes the need for other, more expensive therapies.7

Read the full article here.