Direct to consumer drug advertising is money wasted

How effective is direct to consumer drug advertising?

Some think that drug ads should be banned altogether, saying that it encourages patients to ask their doctors for expensive, brand name prescription drugs.

It turns out, their fears may be overblown.

NPR’s Shots blogs about a recent study looking at the effectiveness of these ads. The numbers, for the pharmaceutical companies anyways, are not encouraging:

Overall, about 8 percent of the people who were exposed to ads say they influenced them to ask doctors for specific drugs.

And did their doctors give them what they wanted? Not usually. Only a little more than a third of the time — or 36 percent — did people get prescriptions for the drugs they wanted.

When it comes to drug ads “at least one-third of people aren’t hearing them or tune them out,” says Dr. Ray Fabius, chief medical officer for Thomson Reuters’ health care and science business unit. After that, he says, the data show doctors serve as a significant filter on those ad-driven requests.

That’s good news. It goes against the conventional wisdom that physicians simply rollover when specifically asked for a branded drug.

I still think that drug ads should be banned on television and in newspapers and magazines, but there’s good evidence that the $1.2 billion spent on consumer marketing is simply wasted. That, perhaps, may be enough impetus for the pharmaceutical industry to rein in advertising on their own.

 is an internal medicine physician and on the Board of Contributors at USA Today.  He is founder and editor of, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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