Prevention survey: pols' bluster doesn't dent DTC

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All the fury over DTC drug ads emanating from Washington hasn't dented their credibility with consumers, according to Rodale's 11th Annual Survey on Consumer Reaction to DTC Advertising of Prescription Drugs.

The survey found little to suggest a hardening in attitudes towards drug ads – despite recent congressional inquests into advertising of Vytorin and Lipitor, headline-grabbing drug safety worries and legislation aimed at curbing consumer drug advertising. The number of respondents agreeing that “drug ads are done responsibly” was down a point to 56%, while those saying “government regulations allow only the safest medicines to be advertised” was up two points to 40%. Around three-quarters of respondents continue to agree that “ads tell people about new treatments (78%),” “ads alert people to symptoms that are related to a medical condition (77%)” and “ads allow people to be more involved in their health care (74%).” The one blip in perceptions of drug ads was a seven-point jump in the number agreeing that “ads cause tension between doctors and patients (44%).”

But the proliferation of doctors – and actors playing doctors – in drug ads since 2005 may be taking some of the starch out of those lab coats. The numbers of respondents saying that doctors in ads “make no difference in believing the medicine is safe/effective” rose six and seven points, to 72% and 75%, respectively.

“Anytime you see ‘Four out of five doctors recommend,' remember that three out of four consumers don't care,” quipped Rodale Director of Consumer Insights Cary Silvers, who noted that all the attention on Pfizer's Lipitor ads starring Dr. Robert Jarvik had probably taken a toll.

For the most part, the survey's numbers remained static. On an eight-year average, a third of respondents who see any DTC ads report talking to their doctor about a specific medicine advertised. On a five-year average, a quarter of those ask their doctor to prescribe them the advertised drug, and 77% get the scrip.

This year's survey heralds what Silvers calls the “Age of the Healthcare Navigator,” with a 12-point jump in the number of respondents seeking drug information online. 

The telephone survey of 1,503 adults, conducted from March 3-20, was sponsored by Rodale's Men's Health, Women's Health and Prevention magazines.

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