Depression and Drug Advertising; TV, Movies, and Magazines

Teri Robert Health Guide
  • If you watch television, you're bound to have seen commercials for prescription medications. Magazines are also running an increasing number of ads for medications. This direct-to-consumer advertising tells us about medications for about any medical condition -- depression, Migraine disease, asthma, insomnia, erectile dysfunction, arthritis, and more. But, there is a debate about such advertising. Is it beneficial or detrimental?

     

    Background:
    USA TODAY, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a national survey regarding drug advertising. The results were interesting...

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    • Of patients who requested a prescription for a specific medication, 44% reported that their doctors prescribed the medication they requested.
    • Just more than half of patients requesting a prescription for a specific medication reported that their doctors prescribed a different medication.
    • Some doctors prescribed both the requested medication and a different one.
    • With duplicate answers removed, the survey showed that 82% of patients were prescribed some medication.

    In a similar survey in 2005, 75% of patients were prescribed a medication. Comparing to the newer study, we see a clear increase.

     

    This survey of 1,695 adults also measured the participants' perception of drug advertising...

    • 47% had a favorable impression of drug advertising.
    • 44% had an unfavorable impression.
    • Those who had an unfavorable impression cited reasons of high prices, large profits, and pharmaceutical company greed.

    Some disturbing statistics from the survey...

    • The pressures of the cost of medications caused 29% of Americans to not fill a prescription during the past two years.
    • 23% of Americans skip doses or cut tablets in half to make their medications last longer.
    • Buying their medications is sometimes a problem for 41% of families due to the cost.

    Summary and commentary:
    As any other issue, this one is not black and white. Does it bring patients to ask their doctors for the newest and latest medications, even if that medication isn't right for them? Yes, at times, it does. But is that necessarily a bad thing? If both doctor and patient are reasonable, I think not. A patient seeing an ad for a medication and asking their doctor about it can open a valuable dialogue.

     

    Optimal health care can be achieved only when patients are educated about their health, and patients and physicians work together as treatment partners in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Studies have shown that patients who are educated about their health are more compliant with their treatment regimens and have better outcomes.

     

    My doctors do not make decisions FOR me; they make decisions WITH me. Appointments with doctors are tending to be shorter, with less time for asking questions, and there is often no time taken for patient education. As a patient, I expect to discuss my options for medications with my doctor, not just say, "You're the doctor," and blindly take whatever is prescribed for me.

     

    There has been some talk about our government getting involved in this debate and regulating direct-to-consumer advertising of medications. This must not happen. Government involvement in doctors' prescribing of medications has already been detrimental to patients, especially patients who need treatment for pain. The "war on drugs" has imprisoned doctors who were doing nothing more than trying to relieve the pain of their patients. Many doctors are now hesitant to prescribe opioids because of government monitoring.

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    Our government sometimes goes too far in protecting us from ourselves. This leads to decreased quality of care and increased government spending.

     

    On the other side of this, as patients, we must take responsibility for our health and our healthcare. We need to ask questions and insist on answers. Some patients ask salespeople more questions about a pair of shoes than they ask their doctors about their care. It's unfair to both patient and doctor for the patient to sit back, let the doctor make all the decisions, then blame the doctor when the outcome isn't what they want.

     

    When direct-to-consumer advertising is responsible -- not targeting inappropriate audiences or making unreasonable claims -- it is valuable to patients and doctors. We need to use this advertising as a springboard to open a productive dialogue with our doctors. The advertised medication may or may not be right for us, but with our doctors, we can make the determination to try it, try something else, or not try any medication at that time. Direct-to-consumer advertising isn't just advertising. It's also a form of patient education.

     

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    Resources:

     

    Appleby, Julie. "As drug ads surge, more get Rx's filled." USA TODAY. March 4, 2008.

     

    Rothrock, John Farr, Parada, Victoria A., Sims, Cheryl, Key, Kristin, Walters, Naomi S. & Zweifler, Richard M. (2006) "The Impact of Intensive Patient Education on Clinical Outcome in a Clinic-Based Migraine Population." Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain 46 (5), 726-731. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2006.00428.x

     

    © Teri Robert, 2008

    Last updated March 7, 2008.

Published On: March 07, 2008