DTC ads driving fewer to physicians, says survey

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Consumers are less likely to seek information about prescription medications and to talk to their doctors about advertised drugs than they were last year, according to Rodale's annual Consumer Reaction to DTC Advertising of Prescription Drugs survey.

Nonetheless, the survey's findings suggest that DTC advertising stimulates 32 million Americans to seek treatment for a medical condition about which they had no prior discussion with their doctor, said Rodale, and they are increasingly seeking information in health videos and user-generated content online.

The telephone survey of 1,501 US adults, the 12th conducted by Rodale's Prevention Magazine, found that the number of respondents saying an ad prompted them to seek information about a condition declined 5 points to 29%. Similarly, 33% said an ad prompted them to seek information about a drug a family member was taking—down 6 points from last year—and 30% said they sought info about a drug they were taking after seeing an ad, down 7 points.

Altogether, 28% of respondents said they had talked to a doctor about a specific medicine they saw or heard advertised – that's below the 8-year average of 33% and well down from last year's 40%, though the number has see-sawed in recent years.  

One factor could be declining spending on DTC. Print advertising by drug companies plummeted 18% in 2008 while TV spend was flat, and overall, DTC will slip further in 2009, the survey's authors predicted. It's clear, too, that the economy is impacting consumer behavior, with 32% reporting switching to a generic and 27% saying they had canceled or delayed a doctor visit to cut down on medical expenses.

More ominously, 15% reported skipping doses or splitting pills, 16% said they'd stopped taking a prescription medication to save money and 18% sought help through access and affordability programs.

“Unemployment is the big reason,” said Cary Silvers, director of consumer insights at Rodale. “If someone has lost health insurance, they don't go to the doctor.”

Even as the percentage of those who said they looked online for information about a specific medicine slipped 5 points (to 48%), consumers reported using emerging online channels in significant numbers. Nearly 50% of those seeking health information online called health videos a top resource, while 55% searched user-generated content sites. Among them, 36% said they'd searched for health info on Wikipedia, while another 36% said they'd read online forums or message boards and 27% had read a blog post on health-related topics.

Consumer perceptions of drug companies and their ads were largely unchanged.

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