Despite a vote by the American Medical Association (AMA) in 2015 recommending that Direct to Consumer Advertising (DTCA) be banned , the pharmaceutical industry (Big Pharma) continues to spend billions of dollars each year on consumer-targeted media campaigns. A year after the AMA vote to ban such advertising, the industry responded by increasing their 2015 DTCA budget by 19% spending more than $5 billion in 2016. Approximately 66% of that massive expenditure was on TV ads. (See chart below)  I am both relieved and disturbed that it wasn’t my imagination that the number of TV ads for pharmaceuticals has been increasing.
Drug advertising works
It’s no wonder billions are spent on pitching prescription drugs to lay people. It simply works. For every dollar spent on DTCA sales within the industry rise by $4.20.  A Kaiser Family Foundation health tracking poll  found that 28% of people talked with their physician after seeing an ad for a prescription medication. If a Primary Care Physician (PCP) sees 90 patients a week, that would mean 25 of those patients were there because of something they saw on TV. I would imagine that PCPs have honed their responses when a patient opens the conversation by saying they saw an ad on TV or on the internet.
DTCA is not a new topic of discussion. It seems that the only thing that has changed when I first broached the subject in 2010  is that spending has accelerated and the ever-expanding sources of media has allowed the pharmaceutical industry to finely target their advertising spend, e.g., Lyrica on the Food Network and Cialis on the Golf Channel.
America is an outlier
It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s only “normal” to see pharmaceutical ads on TV if you live in the United States or New Zealand. In all other countries in the world, advertising prescription drugs on TV is prohibited. If one does the population math, that means that only 5% of the world population sees this type of advertising.
It’s a sad commentary on American society that everything, including health care, is driven by sophisticated marketing with the primary goal of maximizing corporate profits. In this construct, people are simply fodder for corporations to exploit. The best thing we can do is to be aware of efforts to manipulate us and to recognize that the interest of big business and personal interests are often not aligned.
In the case of those TV ads for prescription drugs, the solution is simple. If you don’t feel well, then see your physician. He or she has the knowledge, experience, and context to help. Rest assured, they already know more about the conditions and medications than is in the TV ads. Being an effective healthcare consumer means being informed, but it also means not being be duped by a big pharma ad into believing you have the disease du jour.
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