I read a recent article by Julie Appleby in USA Today discussing whether the increase in drug advertising benefits patients or costs the country more money in health care spending.
According to the article, drug companies spent about $4.8 billion on advertising in 2006, almost double what they spent in 2002. The article stated that ads for prescription drugs prompt more people to ask their doctors about those drugs and that 82% of those who ask get some prescription, whether it is for the drug they asked about or a different drug. This is an increase from 1997, when 75% of patients received a prescription after asking about an ad. The findings come from a national survey conducted in January jointly by USA Today, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. Here are some interesting factoids from the article.
- Of the 1,695 people surveyed, 32% asked their doctors about a particular drug ad.
- Of that 32%, their doctors recommended one or more of the following: making behavior modifications (57%), a different prescription (54%, a prescription for the drug asked about (44%), or an over-the-counter drug (32%).
- 29% of people surveyed said that drug costs have caused them not to fill a prescription at least once in the last two years
- 23% have cut or skipped doses to make medications last longer.
So I began to think about the drug advertising and whether it's beneficial to us or whether it's as unnecessary or costly to patients as some say it is. I personally think the ads are often annoying, but I also think the same thing about car and beer ads.
It makes me think about the rheumatoid arthritis drugs. I've seen plenty of ads over the years for Enbrel, Remicade and Humira. But asking about that drug may prompt a discussion about other available rheumatoid arthritis treatments. For example, there are older NSAIDs and DMARDs, like placquenil and methotrexate that are now in generic form or have been around so many years that they are never advertised. So a patient wouldn't necessarily know about them unless they had done research on all available drug options prior to the doc appt. And most patients, including me, aren't going to be able to make a decision on what they should take without the doctor's advice. There are too many drugs and they affect everyone differently.
So I don't find it surprising that 32% of patients ask their doctors about drugs ads they see (that percentage actually seems low to me) or that 82% of the people who ask get a prescription. It sounds logical, since I assume that most people don't go to the doctor or ask about medication unless they are sick or current medications aren't working properly. And I think it says a lot that more people were either prescribed a different drug or were told to modify their behavior than were prescribed the drug asked about. To me, the survey just shows that people want information and they are comfortable with talking to their doctors about their treatment options. That's a good thing.
Now, I do question whether drugs really need to be as expensive as they are and whether drugs companies really need to spend that much money. Drug companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars over decades developing drugs, testing them and getting them approved by the FDA. Of course they are going to want to sell as much of that drug as possible to recoup their investment and make their shareholders happy. Major media advertising is the logical way to make the public aware of the hot new thing available, especially since drug companies have caught huge amounts of flack in recent years for educating (some would say "wooing") doctors directly.
I wonder how much of the advertising budget cost is included in the cost of the drug, which is paid by the insurance company and eventually passed to the consumer through increased copayments or direct payment when the insurance company doesn't cover the drug.
What do you think about the survey?
Have you ever requested a specific drug from your doctor or rheumatologist and was it prescribed to you?
Published On: March 07, 2008