Direct to Consumer Pharma Marketing – Good or Bad?

By April 20, 2017 Pharma and Politics

There are only two countries in the world that allow for the marketing of pharmaceutical products directly to potential patients, the United States and New Zealand.  One must wonder why, if it such a great idea, that it isn’t more commonly allowed.  Well maybe it isn’t such a good idea, or maybe there is a compromise.image showing the amount of information available through marketing

In 2015 US pharmaceutical companies spent 5.2 billion dollars on direct to consumer (DTC) marketing.  Proponents of DTC contend that the ads inform patients about diseases and possible treatments and encourage people to seek medical advice. Opponents contend that ads misinform patients, promote drugs before long-term safety profiles can be known and stigmatize normal conditions like wrinkles and low testosterone.

The FDA has been responsible for monitoring DTC marketing since 1962.  They are charged with making sure the companies play by the rules, meaning that the ads are factually correct.  The reality, however, is that the FDA does not approve these ads prior to release and only have time to investigate complaints that would then lead to an ad being pulled and possibly result in a fine for the offender.  If you are interested in the facts surrounding DTC marketing an internet search will easily turn up dozens of pages, most of which present the same information in different ways.

My goal, however, isn’t so much to inform you about the mechanics and facts surrounding DTC marketing, but rather to share my opinion.  So what exactly qualifies me to offer an opinion on this topic?  It is a fair question.  First I am a process chemist and have been working in the pharma industry for more than 20 years.  Prior to that time, I worked 5 years in an acute care setting, providing patient care and discussed the topic with multiple physicians.  Years of experience in the medical shapes my opinion.

Myself and just about every physician I have ever talked to agree that it is great to have information available for patients to do their research so that they can discuss treatment options.  The simple truth is that in the assembly line medical setting we now have, doctors simply don’t have the time to educate patients. Further, the proliferation of treatment options doesn’t allow for physicians to develop and retain the specific knowledge of every possible treatment.  Sure they may know the general safety profile and efficacy of a class of drugs, but not what differentiates them.  So anyway the patients can get the information themselves is positive.  

So it would seem that I am in favor of DTC and that is true, with one caveat.  I cannot support the endless thirty-second television ads that I see every day.  It is not possible in half a minute to convey any meaningful educational information about a particular disease or treatment option.  The only appropriate DTC outlet where enough educational content can be delivered is print media and the internet.

DTC marketing has the potential to be a useful tool for patients, but currently, is being utilized as nothing more than a marketing ploy, which does a disservice to patients and physicians as well.