All of that has changed. Patients today live in a 24-hour news cycle, in which television broadcasts break news to millions of people the same day it happens, while the Internet can put people in the know within minutes of an event. DTC advertising and public health education, along with increased use of the Web to research conditions and remedies, have played pivotal roles in shaping a more educated patient population. Information is everywhere, and everyone has access to it, including legions of consumers eager for updates on one of the topics that matter most to them: their health.
And yet, increased public access to medical information has led to a more demanding patient population. Some 110 million Americans logged on to the Internet seeking healthcare information in 2002, up from 97 million people the previous year, according to a survey of 495 primary care doctors published in JABFP in 2003. With greater access to such information, patients have begun approaching doctors to discuss their full range of treatment options or even to put forth their own ideas about the best course of treatment.
Caught off Guard The Regulation Fair Disclosure (Reg FD) rule, passed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in August 2000, prohibits public companies from disclosing information on a selective basis. That means pharma and other medical products companies can no longer release advance information to a select group of shareholders and market professionals, such as healthcare providers.
This may create a more level playing field for shareholders, but it forces physicians to scramble to stay ahead of the information curve, even as patients are walking into their offices with copies of the Wall Street Journal, ready to demand the newest medication or to announce that they've stopped taking a vital medication in response to data reported through the media.
The events surrounding Merck's recent withdrawal of the COX-2 inhibitor Vioxx (rofecoxib) demonstrate how challenging it can be for physicians to stay on top of breaking news that is critical to their ability to counsel their patients.