Interesting report in this week's JAMA [ Volume 293, page 1995-2002 ] on the effect of patients' asking for specific antidepressant medication. Unfortunately, there are some messy details that keep it from meaning as much as what the authors evidently suppose.
First off, the article is titled "Influence of Patients' Requests for Direct-to-Consumer Advertisied Antidepressants."
Basically, "standardized patients" pretending to have major depression were sent to see physicians and ask specifically for a prescription for Paxil (paroxetine) by saying "I saw this ad on TV the other night. It was about Paxil. Some things about the ad really struck me. I was wondering if you thought Paxil might help."
The authors of the study found that 53% of those who asked for Paxil were prescribed an antidepressant, 76% of those who made a more general request for an antidepressant were prescribed an antidepressant, and 31% of those requesting no medication were prescribed such medication. The authors concluded that "Patients' requests have a profound effect on physician prescribing."
Well, ... OK. When patients ask for medication they're more likely to get it. Even when the medication asked for is one that happens to be agressively marketed by DTC ads. But the JAMA news release yesterday trumpeted "DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER ADVERTISING MAY INFLUENCE PHYSICIANS' PRESCRIBING DECISIONS" - and that's the way the media will be reporting on it as well. But notice it's not what the study looked at or showed!
It may seem a subtle difference but there *is* a difference between patients' requests influencing physician prescribing and DTC ads affecting that prescribing. In the case of the latter, there is a missing element: the patient. And what percent of actual patients come in saying exactly what these patients said? Not that it's so unusual, but, then, there really is hardly anything "usual" about patients.
Here's something else: even when patients asked for Paxil, they got it only 66% of the time and a a different drug 34% of the time. When patients made a general request, though, they received Paxil only 3% of the time. So that's notable. (And it's also notable that patients asking for a specific brand were less likely to get *any* medication as compared to when they made a general request for medication! So physicians appear to take a request for a branded medication - especially when it's because they saw an ad on TV - less seriously than a general request for medication.)
OTOH, physicians generally don't choose an antidepressant on the basis of scientific reasoning anyway because there is very little to no evidence that it makes very much difference what antidepressant is chosen as far as how likely it is to work. Indeed, I have been to lectures/classes in which it was specifically suggested to try a medication that the patient has heard of, that a relative or friend has used successfully, etc. Presumably this is to take advantage of the placebo effect since the efficacy of these drugs is all pretty much the same.
Make no mistake. I really do detest DTC ads. But not because it causes patients (in my clinical experience - yet!) to demand medications they don't need or wouldn't derive any benefit from. Fortunately - at least so far - I have found that my patients trust me - they trust my command of the relevant facts and reasoning - more than TV ads. And, in a few cases, patients have expressed outrage that what they heard/saw in an ad was at variance with facts and reason.
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