According to Vox, “most consumers in the United States know the names of a litany of pharmaceuticals they’ll never come into contact with or need, thanks to the commercials that fill our airwaves day in and day out. Drugmakers spend some $6 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising each year. The ultimate goal is for some people to visit the doctor and ask about them.” But the number of people is getting smaller.
I don’t watch much TV anymore because the commercials are too annoying, but I see many DTC ads. I’m aware of new drugs, but I don’t need them. If I did, I would start my education online. When last measured across all DTC TV ads, they were only 7% effective in driving new Rxs. Today, that number is even lower.
Not long ago, I did a study for a client to correlate online buzz with the product launch. The results (for a Psoriasis drug) indicated a slight bump that faded quickly. Among the conversations were “is it covered?” and “what does it cost?”.
“Prescription drug ads unquestionably increase demand for prescription drugs, and the question is, is that mostly a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know that we know the answer to that question,” said Julie Donohue, professor and chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health. The answer is it depends on the health condition and medication.
Some “lifestyle” medications are driven by patient demand, but today the correlation between DTC TV ads and new Rxs is declining. The reasons for this decline are:
1ne: Health insurance coverage refuses to cover new drugs without clear, demonstrated value in patient outcomes versus lower-cost medications.
2wo: Insurers often limit physicians on what drugs they can prescribe.
3hree: Doctors want hard data from pharma companies before switching patients to new medications, especially regarding patient outcomes.
4our: Patients are using the Internet to research new drugs before asking about/for them.
According to the Vox article, “these (drug) ads don’t seriously get into risk-benefit assessments to determine whether the potential benefits of a drug outweigh its possible risks, and all drugs have risks.” Really? The FDA’s research indicated that patients listen to fair balance during TV ads, and the FDA forbids certain music or images that detract from appropriate balance.
I have sat on many research panels to determine if the audience could recall fair balance in TV ads. The results consistently showed they did, but they missed a critical point. The number declined significantly when asked how many would ask their doctor about an advertised medication. We heard things like, “I’d have to do more research on side effects” and “I’d want to know how it compares to my current medication.”
Recently my A1C was a little high, so I asked my doctor for Mounjaro. She did everything she could to talk me out of the medication and said that I should first start with diet and exercise. She mentioned the cost ($1100) and the fact that it had to be taken for a year to see real benefits. Of course, some doctors may say, “no problem,” but at that cost, not many can afford it as it’s not covered by insurance unless you have type 2 diabetes.
In summary, DTC ads do not lead to blind and mindless people asking for a branded prescription drug. People do their research, and insurers have a more significant say regarding what we can use. The FDA should study if DTC ads increase awareness and education about health problems versus driving people to ask for an Rx.