Scientific American’s flawed DTC study

IN SUMMARY: According to a recent study in Scientific American, ” the FDA’s assumption that more risk information leads to greater concern about risk is misplaced. Across six experiments, comprising of over 3000 US participants, we reliably find that when drug commercials include all side effects (both major and minor), in line with the FDA’s regulations, consumers’ judged the overall severity of drug side effects to be lower than when exposed to only major side effects. This lowered assessment of severity led consumers to prefer the drug more—and made them willing to pay more for the drug”. This, to say the least, is a hugely flawed study.

When will DTC studies finally acknowledge the reality that people don’t see a DTC commercial and go running off to their doctor to ask for an advertised drug without doing research online? DTC commercials, in fact, have become less effective over time as more people rely on the Internet for health information. It might be a surprise to the author of this article to learn that one of the most read pages on drug websites is the “safety page”.

The Scientific American study went on to say “a follow-up study employed a different advertising medium by having participants read an actual print ad for the drug Lunesta, which is used to treat sleep disorders. Once again, half the participants read the entire ad which included four side effects (2 major and 2 minor), while the other half read an ad that included just the 2 major ones. Again, reading the ad with more side effects, including minor ones, caused participants to rate the drug less in overall severity and rate the drug as more appealing”.

Could it be that in an era of instant gratification takes too long people are not willing to read all the side effects or that the side effects listed aren’t quantified with the number of people who actually reported these side effects?

If the FDA, and drug companies, were really serious about communicating drug side effects they would make it easier for consumers to read and quantify the reported updates with recent reported side effect information so that patients could decide if THEIR risk was high or low.

Side effects in DTC TV ads and radio ads needs to be reevaluated. Please acknowledge that people are not making treatment decisions based on an ad alone and that they are going online to really better understand drug risks.

80 percent of Internet users, or about 93 million Americans, have searched for a health-related topic online, according to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. That’s up from 62 percent of Internet users who said they went online to research health topics in 2001, the Washington research firm found.