Unless you live under a rock, chances are you have seen numerous television commercials for a whole host of pharmaceutical drugs - allergy medications, antidepressants, erectile dysfunction remedies and so much more. Now, one of the largest doctors’ lobbying groups, the American Medical Association (AMA), hopes to stop the media blitz. Earlier this week, the AMA voted in favor of a ban on these types of direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertisements of medical devices and prescription drugs.
The AMA’s approved resolution does not halt the practice as only Congress or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the authority to ban pharmaceutical advertising. So, although the AMA’s resolution may ultimately be ignored, it is clear that the debate regarding the ads will heat up.
AMA board chair-elect Patrice Harris said in a statement that, “Today’s vote in support of an advertising ban reflects concerns among physicians about the negative impact of commercially-driven promotions, and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices. Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate.”
On the flip side of the argument, Tina Stow of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America claims that DTC advertisements offer “scientifically accurate information to patients so that they are better informed about their health care and treatment options.” She further notes that the marketing campaigns lead to “important doctor-patient conversations about health that might otherwise not take place.”
According to the AMA, the number of people seeking drugs that they may not need from doctors who may not prescribe them has dramatically increased. As a result, the prices of the drugs and the money spent on marketing them has also shot up. The group reports that money spent on DTC advertisements has gone up by 30% over the past two years - to the tune of $4.5 billion.
And, while all of this is going on, prescription drug prices rose about 5% this year alone. Some say that this means everyone loses.
Harris stated that, “Physicians strive to provide the best possible care to their patients, but increases in drug prices can impact the ability of physicians to offer their patients the best drug treatments. Patient care can be compromised and delayed when prescription drugs are unaffordable and subject to coverage limitations by the patient’s health plan. In a worst-case scenario, patients forego necessary treatments when drugs are too expensive.”
The AMA advised back in 1999 that, “When a patient comes to a physician with a request for a drug he or she has seen advertised, the physician and the patient should engage in a dialogue that would assess and enhance the patient’s understanding of the treatment. Although physicians should not be biased against drugs that are advertised, physicians should resist commercially induced pressure to prescribe drugs that may not be indicated.”
Julie Donohue, a professor of public health at the University of Pittsburgh notes a very interesting statistic: “Something like a third of consumers who’ve seen a drug ad have talked to their doctor about it. About two-thirds of those have asked for a prescription. And the majority of people who ask for a prescription have that request honored.”