Wednesday, April 27, 2005

DTC Ads for Antidepressants

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.


Roy M. Poses MD said...

Good point!
You are right, of course. This was a study of the effect of patient's requests for drugs, general or specific, influenced physicians' prescribing, not of DTC advertisements on patients requests.
Note that the study can be accessed here:
I found the accompanying editorial to also be of interest, since it calls for countering DTC advertising with "concise, coherent, evidence-based" public service counter-advertising. This idea has some merit, and avoids the abridgement of free speech that banning DTC advertising would effect.
The editorial can be found here:
On the other hand, I've always wondered why managed care organizations have never mounted any such counter-advertising, given its stated interest in making practice both more cost-effective and more evidence-based.

Tim Gorski MD said... - See what I mean???

IMHO there should be some studies of what PATIENTS come away with after watching these ads (their impressions of what the drug is,w aht it does, and what the risks and benefits are) and how likely PATIENTS are to ask for (or insist on) prescriptions for things they see advertised. WE KNOW the pharmaceutical companies know the answers to these questions!

Anonymous said...

Published on

Your Television as you doctor?

Often, usually on television, one viewing will often at times see an advertisement for some type of medication- usually one involved in a large market disease state and the commercial is sponsored usually by a big pharmaceutical company for a particular network. This is called direct to consumer advertising, and doctors would prefer they did not exist.

Since 1997, when the FDA relaxed regulations regarding this form of advertising, the popularity of the creation of such commercials has greatly increased. The pharmaceutical industry spends around 5 billion annually on this media source now. Normally, the creation of such a commercial becomes visible to the consumer within a year of the drug’s approval, which raises safety concerns. And involves money spent that could be applied to greater uses, according t many, but we are dealing with a corporation here.

The purpose of DTC ads is not education, in my opinion, as others have claimed. Any advertising of any type shares the same objective, which is to increase sales and grow their market and, in this case, for a particular perceived medical condition or disease state. The intent of DTC advertising is to generate an emotional response from the viewer, such as fear or concern, believing upon research that the viewer will then question as to whether they need to seek treatment for what may be an unconfirmed medical condition. Furthermore, the FDA has admitted that they are ignorant as far as the content of such DTC ads, in relation to their accuracy and clarity, as well as their effect on the health care system.
DTC advertising is also a catalyst for and similar to disease mongering.

Disease mongering is the creation of what some believe to be medical flaws, and illustrated by the creators through exaggeration and embellishments through media sources as an avenue for suc propaganda, as is often seen with DTC advertising. Yet the flaws may not be medical, but corporate creations of these questionable human ailments that do not require treatment, possibly, and may be an attempt to develop a particular medical condition to acquire profit. One of my favorite DTCs is the new indication for the use of an anti-depressant for a social disorder. This used to be called introversion, a term created by Dr. Carl Yung. And it is a personality trait, not a medical disease. There are other questionable medical conditions claimed in the contents of DTC commercials, as the creators wish to grow the market for a particular, and possibly fictional, disease state. Then there is baldness treatments advertised, as another example. Lifestyle meds are not treatment meds for illnesses, and should not be portrayed as such.
Also, DTC ads discuss only one treatment option normally, so it seems, when likely several treatment options exist for authentic medical disorders. This should be left to the discretion of the doctor, as they assess your health, not your television or another media source. That’s why most of the world does not conduct DTC advertising, with the exception of our country and New Zealand.

Finally, DTC advertising and its ability to influence viewers to make their own assessment instead of a medical professional remains largely unregulated, yet apparently effective for the DTC creators. People are prone to believe what they see and hear, regardless of whether or not it is actually true. Many, after viewing a DTC ad, seek out a doctor visit and request whatever product that was advertised, which makes things cumbersome for the doctor chosen for such a visit. So the doctor and patient relationship is altered in a negative way, because most DTC ads require a prescription.
Medical information and claims of suggested health ailments should come from those in the medical field instead of the corporate world. Perhaps this will save some over-prescribing, which will benefit everyone in the long term. And the Health Care System can regain control of their purpose, which is far from financial prosperity.

“Men of ill judgment oft ignore the good that lies within their hands till they have lost it”

Dan Abshear