AMA calls for DTC advertising ban

Photo credit: Ted Grudzinski

The largest physician group in the United States, the American Medical Association, voted to support a ban on direct-to-consumer advertising during an interim meeting. Patrice Harris, AMA board chair-elect, said in a statement that marketing has a role in elevating drug prices and that “direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate.”

The AMA said it will convene a physician task force and launch an advocacy campaign to promote prescription drug affordability through pushes for greater transparency from drugmakers in how they price their medicines. The group will also encourage federal regulators to act to limit “anticompetitive behavior” by drugmakers.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in mid-October found that the majority of US adults said government action against drug pricing should be a top priority for the President and Congress. Respondents also said that drug companies spend too much money on marketing and drugmakers have considerable influence on the medicines that doctors choose to prescribe.

PhRMA spokesperson Tina Stow defended DTC advertising, citing FDA research from 2014 that found “that accurate information about disease and treatment options makes patients and doctors better partners.” She added that “beyond increasing patient awareness of disease (including undiagnosed conditions) and available treatments, DTC advertising has been found to increase awareness of the benefits and risks of new medicines and encourage appropriate use of medicines.”

Coalition for Healthcare Communication executive director John Kamp said that the AMA's decision is a “policy mistake” and that abolishing DTC “would violate the spirit and letter of the First Amendment right of companies to tell the truth about their products and services.”

Drugmakers spent $4.5 billion on DTC advertising (excluding web) in 2014, compared to $3.8 billion in 2013—according to Nielsen. 

This isn't the first time the AMA has voted in policies to limit healthcare communications. The group's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs called to end almost all commercial support for professional education in 2008. AMA eventually retreated from that stance, instead advising physicians in a report in 2011 to "strive to avoid financial ties with industry, where possible," placing more responsibility on physician speakers to disclose financial interests.