DTC Advertising Helps Consumers

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Direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceutical products is now commonplace in America. However, despite more than $1 billion in annual spending, people still are struggling to understand whether or not these ads help patients.

We think they do.

The phenomenal growth of DTC has sparked a loud debate regarding its benefits and pitfalls. Many people say it damages the doctor-patient relationship. However, experience with real patients, pharmacists, doctors and drug manufacturers has shown the opposite. Patients who are actively involved in their healthcare decisions are more likely to comply with their therapies, which leads to better health outcomes.

Patients have a right to this information, and they often want more of it. According to many studies, patients are more likely to participate in a dialogue with their healthcare professionals if they have a base of knowledge. Patients armed with good information will be able to make better decisions and they will be more likely to comply with therapy when they are involved in the decision process.

Advertising is intended to inform and influence consumers. It provides a primary source of information on products and services for most people. Today's consumers are bombarded with hundreds of ads every day. People know what ads are and what ads are intended to accomplish, but advertising pharmaceutical products directly to consumers is relatively new.

Advertising to patients is different than selling cookies or dog food. Pharmaceutical products are inherently dangerous. They don't work 100 percent of the time and they can have dangerous side effects. Several restrictions apply, and for good reason.

The information pharmaceutical advertisers communicate must be presented in a truthful, balanced, straightforward fashion that doesn't minimize potential side effects or overemphasize benefits. The FDA requires this, but it's also common sense. If we want patients to make critical decisions, we need to give them critical information. The biggest risk advertisers face if they don't follow these guidelines, far worse than further restrictions from the FDA, is alienating their target audiences. If patients begin to ignore advertisers' messages because they aren't clear, balanced and truthful, a precious opportunity will have been squandered.

But can DTC really provide clear information? Does it lead to better patient outcomes? A recent Prevention survey on DTC suggested that advertising of prescription medicines may improve patient compliance with prescribed drug therapies. The researchers observed that many consumers surveyed who have seen ads for medicines they are currently taking say the advertising makes them feel better about the medicine, makes them more likely to take it and reminds them to have their prescriptions refilled.

Now, however, a recent Health Resource Publishing Newsletter study has shown quantifiable improvements in patient persistence and compliance. Conducted by the leading supplier of health care data, The Plymouth Group of IMS America, the study measured the quantifiable improvement in patient compliance resulting from their receiving a customized in-pharmacy newsletter with their medication.

These results are critical because according to the FDA, 30 percent to 50 percent of those patients using medicines don't use them as directed. The National Pharmaceutical Council estimates that noncompliance costs more than $100 billion a year because of increased hospital admissions, nursing home admissions, lost productivity and premature deaths. According to the council, noncompliance also costs pharmaceutical manufacturers $15 to $20 billion in lost sales.

The IMS study found a statistically significant improvement in persistence and compliance. Persistence improved 10.4 percent in the stores where patients received the newsletter, compared to only 1.1 percent in those control stores where patients did not received the material. The results show a 9.3 percent increase in the number of refills purchased (persistence). Noncompliance dropped by 9.9 percent in stores where patients received the newsletter, compared to 1.3 percent in the control stores. The result with the newsletter is a statistically significant 8.6 percent improvement.

As DTC campaigns continue to develop and be refined we think they will become even more effective in accomplishing their objectives. Patients will become better informed and more able to participate in important decisions regarding their healthcare choices. Outcomes should improve and total healthcare costs should be reduced. Patients have a right to more information, and early indications suggest they are putting it to good use.

Mike McClorey is president/CEO of Health Resource Publishing Co., St. Louis, which produces the Health Resource Newsletter.

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