Consumers listen to DTC messages

October 1, 1998

Pharmaceutical Representative

Doctors may tell reps they hate hearing about direct-to-consumer advertisements, but that's not what they tell their patients.

Doctors may tell reps they hate hearing about direct-to-consumer advertisements, but that's not what they tell their patients.

In a telephone survey of 1,200 consumers, 80% of respondents who spoke with their doctor about advertised prescription medicines said their doctor was very willing to talk with them. Another 15% said their doctor was somewhat willing, leaving only 5% who said their doctor was unwilling to speak with them about advertised medicines.

These and other facts were revealed in Prevention Magazine's recent study, "National Survey of Consumer Reaction to Direct-to-Consumer Advertising."

Among the survey's findings:


• Nine out of 10 adults have seen or heard a DTC advertisement for prescription medicines.


• Approximately a third of those consumers talked with their doctor about a medicine they saw advertised.


• Twenty-eight percent asked their doctor to prescribe a drug they saw advertised and - lending credence to the adage that those who ask shall receive - 80% of those consumers actually received the requested prescription.

Responsible consumers

"The current environment is right for direct-to-consumer advertising," said Lorraine Pastore, executive vice president and management director of Medicus Communications, a leading DTC pharmaceutical advertising agency. "Consumers want to be involved in their health care decisions."

In fact, Prevention Magazine's survey uncovered a more objective, proactive consumer than expected. For instance, 45% of those who saw print advertisements for medicines said they read almost all of the FDA-required "brief summary," which details a product's risks and benefits. Another 22% said they read at least some of the brief summary. After seeing a DTC advertisement, 30% got on the Internet, called a toll-free number or read an additional referenced magazine or newspaper for more information about medicine. One-third went directly to their doctor for more information.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed believe that DTC ads educate individuals about risks and benefits of prescription medicines; 59% agree that ads help them make their own decisions about prescription medicines.

The ads had another, unanticipated effect on consumers, according to those surveyed: They boosted patients' compliance with therapy.

More than one-quarter of respondents who had seen an ad for a drug they were currently taking said they were more likely to take their prescription as a result of seeing the ad. Another 25% said they remembered to refill their prescriptions after seeing an ad.

Good news for advertisers

The survey's findings are good news to those pharmaceutical companies that jumped quickly onto the DTC advertising bandwagon.

Scott-Levin reports that six of 10 medical conditions accounting for increased office visits in 1997 were for conditions mentioned in DTC ad campaigns.

"DTC advertising is not only raising consumer awareness of available treatment options, it is driving patients to see their physicians to further discuss these options, with these same patients frequently requesting a specific medication by name," said Jim Charnetski, vice president of audit services at Scott-Levin.

With so much advertising emphasis on certain drugs - typically new and expensive ones - physicians and managed care organizations alike are struggling to battle the tide of prescription medicine consumerism.

Thirty-five percent of physicians would still like DTC advertising to go away, IMS Health data indicates; 30% think it should continue as it is; and 26% think it should be reduced but not eliminated. Only 9% support an increase in DTC advertising.

Meanwhile, managed care organizations are providing physicians with explicit directions against non-covered brands, and are encouraging physicians to prescribe within formulary guidelines. According to IMS Health, nearly 25% of physicians reported receiving direction from a managed care organization on how to respond to patient requests for non-covered brands.

Advertising executives are prepared for this type of resistance, and are already discussing how to counter it. They are talking about which products will lend themselves most to the influence of DTC advertising and which are better left to traditional marketing strategies.

But whether doctors and managed care organizations like it or not, DTC advertising is reaching consumers - and they're listening. PR