Using a Drug Facts Box to Communicate Drug Benefits and Harms

This article examines whether providing a drug facts box on direct-to-consumer advertising can impact consumer understanding and decision-making. Direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals does not currently provide consumers with clear and accessible information to help them make informed decisions. 

The authors conducted two randomized, controlled trials between 2006 and 2007. The data were collected via mailed surveys measuring respondents' reactions to two drug fact boxes versus traditional direct-to-consumer advertisements. One trial compared two potential treatments for heartburn and the other compared two potential preventive medications for cardiovascular events.

Key Findings:

  • Of respondents who received the drug fact box on heartburn, 70 percent were able to correctly identify the most effective treatment, as compared to 8 percent of the control group.
  • 79 percent of respondents who received the drug fact box on cardiovascular preventive medicines were able to identify the absolute risk reduction of the medication, compared to 9 percent of the control group. The majority of control group respondents overestimated the absolute benefit of the drug by a factor of 10 or more.

The authors conclude that drug fact boxes have the potential to improve consumers' knowledge of the potential benefits and side effects of medications.