The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will move forward with a survey of healthcare professionals regarding their opinions and perceptions about prescription drug promotion after receiving approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the executive branch’s regulatory clearing house. While this is a good first step a better idea would have been to conduct a survey with consumers not healthcare professionals as consumers are becoming more involved in every aspect of their healthcare from when the go to see a doctor to what treatments they consider.
We know from recent research that patients trust their physicians to recommend the best treatment and that in most cases patients will follow their physicians advice. We also have seen a decline in DTC advertising for two years in a row with the latest data showing a double-digit decline. Accenture reports that more pharma companies are planning to shift more dollars to digital marketing and analytics to improve marketing and lower costs and while a lot of that money will probably be spent on direct to physician detailing and promotion I expect a lot more investment in DTC digital marketing.
From the data that is available we know that more and more people are going online for health information and that what they find is often effects whether or not they seek professional help. The FDA needs to understand both why people are going online for health information but, and more importantly, what they are doing when they find health information online.
When it comes to DTC advertising the idea that someone is going to see an ad and ask their doctor about it is myopic thinking. I read where a DTC manager actually said that DTC ads are meant to “start the conversation” Ha ? Maybe if he considers the conversation going online but let’s be honest the drug industry, for the most part, is afraid to have any conversation with patients. I mean who in their right mind is going to consider a drug when the fair balance says “serious, sometimes fatal side effects have been reported” ?
I again call on the FDA to work with someone like Manhattan Research so they can better understand how consumers are using the web for health information and to finally learn and understand that DTC advertising is not as effective as it once was because of the internet. Sure there are some drugs that don’t require a lot of online research but for the most part consumers are not going to put anything in their bodies without understanding the benefits and risks.
DTC ads are the first step in a long complicated process of choosing healthcare treatment options. Asking doctors what they think is OK but to really understand the impact of DTC marketing they need to ask consumers.