Direct-to-Consumer Prescription Drug Ads Create Problems, Providers Say

Research of the effects of direct-to-consumer drug advertising on patient-provider relationships

From 2000 to 2001, researchers at Boston University School of Public Health examined how the growth of direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs affects the patient-provider relationship.

The research team interviewed 42 leaders in the field about how direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs has affected patients and providers.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Strengthening the Patient-Provider Relationship in a Changing Health Care Environment national program.

Key Findings:

  • Spending on direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising increased from $1.9 billion in 1999 to $2.5 billion in 2000, a rise of 32 percent.
  • Most of the respondents expressed concern that direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs has strained patient-provider relationships, and most feel that it has helped raise health care costs.
  • Based on interviewees' ratings of 19 public and 12 private sector options designed to address problems related to direct-to-consumer advertising, it appears "impossible to find measures that would be both effective and feasible to adopt" in the present political climate.
  • Focusing on direct-to-consumer advertising alone is a "diversion from the main challenge of reining in prescription drug costs and making needed drugs affordable to all."