Is Direct-to-Consumer Advertisement Misleading?
[Posted on: Thursday, September 8, 2016]
The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries in the World that allow direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertisement. Each year the US pharma industry spends almost $5 billion on such ads. However, the American Medical Association that represents the doctors believe DTC ads push patients towards costly new drugs with limited experience compared to established treatment alternatively. In an opinion published in last month’s JAMA Oncology, two oncologists take the argument further by making a case using a examples that DTC ads mislead the patients by underplaying the risk and over-playing the benefits. They cite cases where risk information is presented in the ads with pleasant imagery creating a disconnected perception. The doctors conclude that DTC ads do not benefit. The pharmaceutical industry has long supported DTC ads as protected speech, educational tool and FDA-permitted promotional activity. This is not a new debate but it does raise some interesting points. There is a well known missing connection between patient needs and doctor’s prescription. Patients want newer treatments with a perception of new is better while the doctors want to prescribe drugs that they have more experience with. It has been argued that the highly controlled clinical trials environment makes them insufficient to truly evaluate a drug’s efficacy. So, newly approved drugs with limited real clinical experience should be less preferred over established therapies. However, an alternate argument could be made regarding patient access to new drugs that improved on the older therapies. If left to doctors, it is obvious that newer therapies will take longer times to come to full potential markets. This is observed in other countries where DTC is not permitted and patients generally get older standard of care before new options are provided. The US consumers, on the other hand, become aware of new drugs almost immediately after approval, thanks to publicity by the FDA and DTC ads. Pharma industry obviously likes DTC for business reasons. There are good arguments on both sides but for now, we can be assured that DTC ads are not going anywhere.