It’s well documented that the American Medical Association isn’t a huge fan of direct-to-consumer advertising for pharmaceuticals and devices. Individual doctors, however, have been far less vocal about their feelings toward DTC. Do they believe that the ads help educate patients? Do they derive any benefits themselves, in terms of awareness or anything else, from the ads?
Read the 2017 DTC Report: Patients are taking on DTC ads. How will drugmakers respond?
We had SERMO, a social network for physicians, ask them. In response to the question, “Do you believe DTC drug advertisements primarily (1) are helpful to doctor–patient communications and educate patients or (2) make doctor–patient communications more difficult and do not provide valuable educational content to patients,” 21% (353 doctors) said the former and 79% (1,343 doctors) said the latter. We’ve synthesized their comments below, preceded by the physician’s area of specialty.
Hematology: “[Patients] are being normed to a standard of truth and transparency that used to be associated only with used cars and new toys. The physician no longer starts with a clean slate.
The physician now starts with the burden of de-educating the patient from irresponsible and fantastic expectations.”
Plastic and reconstructive surgery: “These commercials are directed to prospective patients, yet the rapid medical warnings and fine print are filled with medical terminology that no non-physician could possibly comprehend.”
Otolaryngology: “If there is no medical contraindication, and if the class of medication is appropriate, I always prescribe the competitor’s drug, on principle.”
Psychiatry: “When I explain that two antidepressants have about the same chance of working, but the TV brand is $400 and the generic or older brand is $10, then most patients want the generic. TV sells. But patients don’t always want to buy designer with their own wallets.”
Family practice: “They lead to distrust of doctors when we won’t prescribe Drug X and they [patients] request it. No matter how much I try to educate them on just why Drug X isn’t for them, I still feel they think I’m withholding some valuable panacea.”
Otolaryngology: “I can’t tell you how many patients I speak to on the new non-reversible anticoagulants who have no idea what will happen if they have a nosebleed or are in an accident and their bleeding cannot be stopped.”
Pain medicine: “DTC advertising of all medicines should be banned. [It’s] totally worthless and impairs appropriate treatment.”
Endocrinology: “DTC is for pharma’s benefit only. It attempts to make patients think they are missing out if the medication is not prescribed for them and that their doctor is incompetent for not knowing. It also contributes to the unnecessarily high cost of the medication. It must contribute to the bottom line of pharmaceutical companies or they wouldn’t invest the money.”
General surgery: “DTC advertising tends to confuse consumers and make doctors’ discussions with patients more difficult.”
Family practice: “Let DTC [drug] advertising go the way of cigarette advertising.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reversed the number of physicians who are pro-DTC (21%) and anti-DTC (79%). About 21% (353 physicians) say that DTC ads are helpful to doctor–patient communications and educate patients, and 79% (1,343 doctors) say they make doctor–patient communications more difficult.