Physicians Say DTC Ads Are Driving Increased Patient Discussions—But Also Confusion

Direct-to-consumer advertising has taken some heat from regulators, politicians, and even the public, but a new survey reveals that physicians feel these ads are actually responsible for driving more discussions with patients. InCrowd, a provider of real-time market intelligence to the life sciences and healthcare firms, conducted a microsurvey of 319 U.S. physicians who say that they receive 3x more questions from patients regarding DTC ads then they did five years ago. Or more precisely, an increase from one question a week to three. The only problem: Patients don’t necessary understand the information in the ad.

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of the responding physicians said that they don’t feel their patients generally understand the information provided by pharmaceutical companies in these ads. When asked how many of their patients understand the information, only 13% responded “most” and 43% responded “some.” Meanwhile, 41% said only “a few” and 3% said “none.” Furthermore, nearly half of respondents (49%) feel that ads impair or confuse the patient’s understanding of conditions, treatments, or risks that may occur.

Physicians Want to Keep DTC Ads

Even though physicians feel patients don’t necessarily understand the information on these ads, respondents still are in favor of keeping DTC ads. Only 35% said they want to outright ban ads. That means 65% would prefer to just tweak them in order to better serve patients. Some of the potential improvements mentioned by respondents include:

  • 31% recommended additional patient education
  • 17% suggested simplifying the message
  • 7% wanted more explanation of side effects
  • 3% proposed adding in cost information

“It’s important to build patient awareness of new treatments, and our physician response suggests U.S. physicians think the pharma industry is doing well on that aim with DTC ads—and that these doctors are considering how best to integrate them into their practice,” Diane Hayes, President and Co-founder of InCrowd, said in a statement. “Yet as Congress targets the need to lower prescription drug prices, the pharma industry needs to listen carefully to physician insights on better structuring their DTC-ad programs for information clarity, and increased benefit to both patient and physician.”

However, 7% of respondents felt that DTC ads were fine as is and said that no changes were needed. And 16% said that DTC ads actually improve a patient’s understanding of conditions, treatments options, and risks.

InCrowd conducted this survey between June and September 2016. The average respondent has been in practice for 18 years and is 48 years old. In terms of gender, 31% were female and 67% were male.


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