Pharmaceutical companies are one of the largest advertisers in the overall marketplace and across all media. In their bid to stimulate patient demand for branded drugs, influence physician prescribing habits and increase drug utilization, pharmaceutical brands pour billions of dollars into new TV, print, and digital advertising campaigns annually.

MedData Point, a marketing research program powered by MedData Group, recently surveyed 600 U.S. physicians, spanning across a variety of specialties and practice sizes, on their opinion on pharmaceutical advertising, both consumer-directed and physician-directed. The survey results present an interesting picture of physician opinions of pharma advertising to consumers while open-minded toward advertisements directed at themselves .

Physicians Opinion on Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) Advertising

In 1997, the Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP), formerly known as the Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising, and Communications (DDMAC), a sub-division of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), which is a division of the FDA, released guidelines that allowed drug manufacturers to comfortably satisfy the legal requirements for advertising their products to the general public. Ever since the regulatory change was announced, a slew of advertisements for prescription drugs have grown exponentially in number. In this survey, MedData Group aims to understand physician opinions of drug advertising to consumers vs. to providers. The results are mixed.

More than 50% of the respondents are of the opinion that “pharma advertising misleads consumers into thinking they need certain drugs without having the proper medical training.” The significant concern among the medical community is the criticism that it undermines the physician-patient relationship, gives a false perception of the drug’s benefits, and de-emphasizes its risks—all the while contributing to the higher healthcare cost in the country. As the phenomenon of broadcast DTC advertising is only expected to grow and promulgate well into the future, HCPs need to continue their role as advocates for patients.

In contrast, physician advocates of DTC advertising argue that prescription drug ads are an appropriate and highly valued source of information for educating and empowering healthcare consumers. Furthermore, the enormous potential of DTC advertising which reaches millions of potential consumers can help in normalizing stigmatized conditions such as depression and other mental illnesses, while encouraging them to seek medical treatment and take control of their conditions.

Physicians Opinion on Direct-to-Provider (DTP) Advertising

Most of the research on drug advertising focuses on consumers but does not mention whether physicians and other HCPs are receptive to it or not. As per the fact sheet published by the Pew Charitable Trusts, drug companies spent more than $24 billion on marketing to physicians in 2012. The survey reports that 75% of physicians who are exposed to pharmaceutical advertising directed at physicians and other HCPs are either very or somewhat accepting of receiving information about new drugs and treatment options. This lends itself perfectly to the study conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) on pharmaceutical advertising and its effects on revenue that indicates “well-timed advertising directed to doctors tends to boost sales of the individual drug brand.” For pharma and healthcare marketers, this is a great opportunity to optimize their marketing strategy by leveraging the power of programmatic advertising across non-endemic websites to provide the scale and reach necessary for successful campaigns.

In the open-ended question, most physicians believe that “pharmaceutical information should be distributed only to physicians, pharmacies, nurse practitioners, and other medical personnel as they are in a better position to prescribe what is best for that individual patient and educate them on the risks vs. rewards they will encounter.” Diana Zuckerman, President of the National Center for Health Research in Washington, D.C., a non-partisan research organization, reiterates the same concerns that “medical decisions should be made by doctors, not uninformed consumers prodded by drug-makers.”

  • Bill Reinstein

    Bill Reinstein is President and CEO of MedData Group. Bill is a seasoned entrepreneur with over 20 years of expertise building interactive media and technology-enabled service organizations. As President and CEO of MedData Group, he is responsible for the strategic vision, organizational health and financial success of the company.

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