Direct to Consumer: If These Walls Had Ears

New research shows how DTC affects patients' conversations with physicians.
Sep 30, 2006


Joe Gattuso is president of CommonHealth’s MBS/Vox division and director of strategic insight and account planning.
Dtc advertising has caused more than its share of controversy both inside and outside the industry. Critics wonder: Are patients paying for drugs they don't need? Meanwhile, industry is still struggling to answer the basics: How effective is DTC in getting patients to request a drug by name? CommonHealth's MBS/Vox division conducted a survey that tried to answer industry's question, and in doing so, inform the wider debate about DTC's role in healthcare.


Meg Columbia-Walsh is managing partner and president of consumer and e-business at CommonHealth.
MBS/Vox peered behind the doors of 172 health providers and studied their conversations with 440 patients. The study sought to determine how often discussions about prescription brands were taking place, and to uncover the correlation between DTC spend and risk–benefit conversations. The study focused on three segments—cholesterol, allergy, and hypertension. These three categories receive different levels of DTC spending (allergy and cholesterol spending is significantly higher than hypertension).


Crunching Numbers
Of the analyzed visits, 291 included mentions of an allergy, cholesterol, or hypertension medication. Of those visits, only 17 references to DTC were made, eight direct (referred to actual ad) and nine indirect. The study found that more than half of the visits in which a medication was discussed included no mention of the risks or benefits of that drug. Of the visits where a risk–benefit discussion took place, more benefits than risks were presented in all three disease categories.

Pharm Exec talked with Joseph Gattuso, president of CommonHealth's MBS/Vox division and director of strategic insight and account planning, and Meg Columbia-Walsh, managing partner and president of consumer and e-business at CommonHealth, to shed light on DTC's place in the patient–physician relationship.

Pharm Exec: What drove your company to conduct this study?


Risk vs. Benefit: The DTC Lowdown
GATTUSO: We know how DTC works. When you study it, the ROI is there. But exactly what happens in the doctor's office that makes it work? We call it "the moment of truth"—when the physician and the patient are talking about therapy and a diagnosis. There's a lot of studies as to whether DTC marketing drives patients to the office, or if it raises awareness. We know that it raises awareness. We know that people are more aware of both the medications and the conditions when there's DTC. But what we decided to look at was the actual dialogue itself.

COLUMBIA-WALSH: I've been in the industry for 20 years, and I've seen a severe pendulum swing, from 100 percent talking to physicians to an almost consumer-product-goods approach to marketing. Now we're seeing a pull-back, and I think that the place it's going to land is with the physician–patient dialogue.