A Television As Your Doctor?by Dan Abshear | May 19, 2008
We often see advertisements on television for some type of medication — usually one involved in a large-market disease and the commercial is sponsored by a big pharmaceutical company. This is called direct to consumer (DTC) advertising, and doctors would prefer they did not exist.
Since 1997, when the FDA relaxed regulations regarding this form of advertising, the popularity of these commercials greatly increased. Now, the pharmaceutical industry spends around $5 billion annually on this gigantic media effort. Normally, the commercial airs within a year of the drug’s approval, which raises safety concerns and involves money spent that could be applied to greater uses, according to 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 — to increase sales and grow their market — 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. The most interesting ones are for erectile dysfunction (ED) during primetime TV, with the real possibility of children watching. Further surreal is that these particular commercials seem to have ED sufferers portrayed as those who could probably run marathons, which is not realistic from a clinical perspective.
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. It is illustrated by the drug companies through exaggeration and embellishments via various media sources as an avenue for propaganda — often seen with DTC advertising. Though the flaws may not be medical, the corporate creation of these questionable human ailments that do not require treatment, possibly, 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. 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 being advertised, as another example. Lifestyle meds are not treatment meds for illnesses, and should not be portrayed as such.
Also, DTC ads normally discuss a single treatment option when likely several treatment options exist for authentic medical disorders. This should be left to the discretion of the physician, as they assess your health, not your TV or another media source. That’s why most of the world does not conduct DTC advertising, with the exception of America and New Zealand.
Finally, DTC advertising and its ability to influence viewers to make their own assessment instead of a medical professionals 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. After viewing a DTC ad, many seek out a doctor visit and request whatever product that was advertised, which makes the doctor’s situation quite cumbersome. So the doctor and patient relationship is altered in a negative fashion since most DTC advertised drugs 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 of our over-prescribing habits, which will benefit all of us in the long term. And the health care system can regain control of its 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.
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