Direct-to-consumer prescription drug ads get poor grades for educating consumers

November 30, 2000

Health policy experts suggest regulation may be needed

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- Proponents of consumer drug ads say the promotions do more than sell pills, they also help educate people about medical conditions and treatments. But the controversial ads actually teach very little, according to a new analysis by researchers at UC Davis and UCLA. The researchers call on drug companies to voluntarily improve their advertising -- or face regulation. The analysis and recommendations appear in the December issue of The Journal of Family Practice.

"No English-speaking country other than the United States permits direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising," says Dr. Richard L. Kravitz, director of the UC Davis Center for Health Services Research in Primary Care and a study author. "A leading argument in favor of allowing this advertising is that the ads are educational; however, our research shows that in practice this argument often falls short." Dr. Kravitz and his co-authors scrutinized 320 print ads promoting 101 drug brands. The ads appeared in 18 popular magazines between 1989 and 1998. On an 11-point scale of educational content, the average ad scored only 3.2 points.

Most ads failed to provide information about how a drug works, its success rate, how long it must be taken, alternative treatments, or helpful lifestyle changes. A few ads didn't even reveal the drug's name.

Among the study's findings:"These ads are designed to encourage patients to request the advertised drugs from physicians," Dr. Kravitz says. "That can have three outcomes. The patient can request the drug, and the drug can be appropriate, in which case the outcome is good. The patient can request an inappropriate drug, and the doctor can acquiesce and prescribe it, which could cause the patient's health to suffer. Or the patient can request an inappropriate drug, the doctor can refuse to prescribe it, and the patient and doctor can get locked in an argument that imperils the doctor-patient relationship."

In their article, the authors offer suggestions for physicians in dealing with patient requests. The article recommends that physicians keep on hand informational materials produced by such organizations as the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians. Then, when a patient asks about an advertised drug, the physician can provide a handout, saying, "This information is produced by the best experts in the field and provides a more balanced view than what you will find in profit-motivated advertisements," the authors suggest.

If the pharmaceutical industry does improve the educational content of its prescription drug ads, further research will be needed to assess the impact of that change on physician-patient interactions, the authors say.

Among the questions to be asked: Do educational promotions increase demands by patients for drugs that are not medically indicated, requiring time-consuming re-education by physicians? Or do better-informed patients take less time to treat and counsel? For now, the authors argue that prescription drugs ads should provide better information. "Providing complete and accurate information," they state, "is the right thing to do."

"The medical community should exert pressure on the drug industry to incorporate more information about conditions and treatments in its advertising... If such information is not provided voluntarily by the industry in future advertising, the medical establishment should lobby for regulation," the article argues.
Copies of all news releases from UC Davis Health System are available on the web at

University of California - Davis Health System

Related Health Articles from Brightsurf:

The mental health impact of pandemics for front line health care staff
New research shows the impact that pandemics have on the mental health of front-line health care staff.

Modifiable health risks linked to more than $730 billion in US health care costs
Modifiable health risks, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking, were linked to over $730 billion in health care spending in the US in 2016, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health.

New measure of social determinants of health may improve cardiovascular health assessment
The authors of this study developed a single risk score derived from multiple social determinants of health that predicts county-level cardiovascular disease mortality.

BU study: High deductible health plans are widening racial health gaps
The growing Black Lives Matter movement has brought more attention to the myriad structures that reinforce racial inequities, in everything from policing to hiring to maternal mortality.

Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

E-health resource improves men's health behaviours with or without fitness facilities
Men who regularly used a free web resource made significantly more health changes than men who did not, finds a new study from the University of British Columbia and Intensions Consulting.

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.

Mental health of health care workers in china in hospitals with patients with COVID-19
This survey study of almost 1,300 health care workers in China at 34 hospitals equipped with fever clinics or wards for patients with COVID-19 reports on their mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia and distress.

Health records pin broad set of health risks on genetic premutation
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marshfield Clinic have found that there may be a much broader health risk to carriers of the FMR1 premutation, with potentially dozens of clinical conditions that can be ascribed directly to carrying it.

Attitudes about health affect how older adults engage with negative health news
To get older adults to pay attention to important health information, preface it with the good news about their health.

Read More: Health News and Health Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to