What Moratorium?

Most physicians agree that direct-to-consumer advertisements should be put on hold, but few are screaming for change. Why?
Dec 01, 2007
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

David Kweskin
For years now, politicians have been calling for a moratorium on direct-to-consumer drug advertising. Most recently, presidential hopeful John Edwards announced that he will seek a two-year hold on all DTC ads so that the drugs will have time to prove their efficacy and safety on the marketplace. That's all fine and dandy, but politicians are not physicians, and they do not have insight into doctors' prescribing habits or patients' actual response to consumer ads.

To find out what doctors really think about consumer marketing, TNS Healthcare interviewed more than 1,000 physicians in an Internet study. According to the results, nearly two-thirds of physicians favor a moratorium on DTC advertising, with half supporting a one- or two-year wait before manufacturers can begin promoting new drugs directly to consumers. Pharmaceutical Executive talked to TNS Senior Vice President David Kweskin to learn more.

Why did you do this study?

We did it as a way of educating ourselves about the people who would be most affected by any kind of moratorium. Rather than blue-sky what we think people thought, we decided to find out directly from them.

Are any specific types of doctors more likely to be for or against DTC ads?

There seems to be a uniformity. We didn't see one particular group as very different from any other. There's always variation, of course, but it was more interesting to see that different specialists were largely thinking along the same lines.

This study was done before the moratorium failed to get congressional approval. Do you think physicians would respond differently today?

The question we asked was: Are you aware of the FDA revitalization legislation that recently passed in the US Senate 93 to 1 and that had the DTC ad moratorium removed from the bill? Only 10 percent were aware that this was going on—there was hardly even any recognition of the legislation. Therefore, I'm surmising that if they weren't aware then, chances are there's not much change subsequently. I just don't think physicians are sitting on the edge of their chairs waiting to see what the FDA is going to do about DTC ads.

What did doctors say was the biggest hindrance to their job caused by DTC?

Physicians are of a mixed mind: They see positive aspects and things they find annoying. I don't think they're rejecting DTC out of hand. For example, one of the most frequent answers was that ads increase drug costs. Now, you can interpret that a couple of ways. One is you can say, "The pharma companies are taking the cost of the ads and putting it into the cost of the drugs and, ultimately, the consumer is suffering." On the other hand, you can look at it as, they're bringing the consumer a solution. I'll give you an example. In the erectile dysfunction category, there are a lot of men out there who had no idea that there was something that they could do about it. So there is a sense adds a cost to one's way of life, but it also provides a solution.

The study found that more than 50 percent of doctors feel that patients misunderstand the ad messages and pressure doctors to prescribe inappropriate medication. Was that a major concern?

I think from a physician's point of view it's often "I'm the gatekeeper here, so whatever you ask me." But we've also seen on the positive side that physicians say it brings in patients who otherwise wouldn't have been there. Or, for example, it helps patients feel comfortable bringing up questions or concerns about symptoms or conditions. That was something that was agreed upon.

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