More Americans are asking their doctors about specific medicines advertised – and more are getting them, according to Prevention magazine’s 9th annual survey of consumer reaction to DTC advertising.
The number of Americans that talked to their doctor about a specific medication that was advertised jumped 7 points this year to 41%, or 85.8 million, according to the survey – the biggest jump so far. Of those who talked to their doctor about an advertised drug, whether they asked for it or not, 36%, or 30.2 million, got it – up 4 points from 2005’s 32%. The rise in those getting the advertised medication discussed reverses a four-year downward trend, from 50% in 2001 to 32% in 2005.
Those numbers, coupled with greater awareness of unbranded disease state advertising (up 7 points on 2005 to 42%), suggest that patients are being driven to their doctors with specific questions by spots.
One factor in the increased talk could be increased spending on chronic disease categories like cholesterol and acid reflex in response to less spending on ED drug ads, said Prevention publisher Rodale’s director of consumer and advertising trends, Cary Silver. Not surprisingly, the largest increase in doctor-patient discussion about a particular condition due to advertising went to insomnia – 11 points. But Prevention also found jumps in talk about arthritis (6 points), heartburn (5 points), cholesterol and diabetes (4 points). But the survey did track increases among caregivers asking about a medication (11 points) and the condition treated (10 points), along with consumers asking about a medicine they were personally taking (8 percent).
No one demographic seemed to be driving the trend, with sharp increases in those who talked to their doctor about an advertised drug among Gen Y consumers (17 points), non-high school graduates (15 points), African Americans (13 points, high income earners (12 points) and seniors 61 and up (10 points).
The survey also gave some insight into how consumers view doctors and celebs in ads. Twenty percent said a doctor appearing in a spot could influence their view of the drug’s effectiveness, while 69% said it would not affect their assessment – a finding that Dr. Katherine Aiken of DDMAC said shows companies must note when an actor appears in an ad portraying a doctor. Just 6% said a celebrity would persuade them of a drug’s effectiveness.
Consumers remained divided on the merit of DTC advertising, with strong majorities agreeing that ads tell people about new treatments and alert people to symptoms of medical conditions, but little more than half strongly or somewhat agreeing that DTC ads are done responsibly.
“Consumers can live with that dichotomy of views,” said Rodale’s Silver, “because if you need pharmaceutical drugs, you need them.” The data, said Silver, shows that ads “do not necessarily drive demand but educate consumers to ask better questions, and they’re talking about conditions that don’t necessarily have high notoriety.”