Advertisements influence doctors, patients

Pharmaceutical Representative

Advertising campaigns for prescription drugs are influencing doctor-patient relationships, according to a new marketing study.

Advertising campaigns for prescription drugs are influencing doctor-patient relationships, according to a new marketing study.

The study is based on responses from 5,000 physicians, 5,000 consumers and several health maintenance organization pharmacy directors. The study was conducted by health care consulting firm Scott-Levin, Newton, PA, which has been monitoring such campaigns since 1989.

Direct-to-consumer advertising almost doubled from 1995 to 1996, the study revealed. Pharmaceutical companies spent $610 million on consumer advertising in 1996, as opposed to $345 in 1995.

Ads sway patients

As a result, patients are much more aware of prescription drug products today than they were a year ago, the study found. In 1995, 76% were exposed to direct-to-consumer ads. That number jumped to 86% in 1996.

On average, approximately 10% of patients initiate discussions about drugs they have seen promoted, the study found. Some specialists reported a higher percentage. About 20% of urologists said that 21% of their patients bring up the subject of advertised products.

As a result, Scott-Levin surmised from its study, patients are becoming true consumers of pharmaceuticals.

Confidence in direct-to-consumer ads dropped considerably in 1996. Less than half of consumers (46%) believed that the ads they saw were reliable, as opposed to 69% in 1992.

Doctors influenced by ads too

Nearly 80% of doctors see the ads as well, although they respond even more coolly than their patients. Approximately half say they have unfavorable impressions of direct-to-consumer advertisements.

Despite their negative attitudes, doctors are willing to prescribe a medication a patient asks for as long as the treatment is not contra-indicated.

Perhaps most interesting is the effect of direct-to-consumer advertising on what doctors prescribe for patients who don't request specific medicines. The study found that doctors are more likely to prescribe the same therapy that another patient requested to one who made no request.

More ad campaigns to come

"[Direct-to-consumer advertising] will continue to become more common," summarized Art McKee, Scott-Levin's director of strategic studies.

"Today, consumers are almost 'shopping' for health care," he said. "Part of that shopping is finding out what the available therapies are. They want to know what their treatment options are." PR