Direct-to Consumer Drug Ads: Doctors Feel ‘Pressured’

16 January 2003

Nearly half – forty-seven percent – of US general medical practitioners and specialists say they feel “a little or somewhat pressured” to prescribe ethical pharmaceutical products advertised direct to consumers.

A new survey conducted on behalf of the Food and Drug Administration’s Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications unveiled its findings earlier this week.

The data reveal the potency of such ads, with no fewer than 92% of doctors reporting that patients had requested specific drugs as a result of exposure to ads – an outcome triggering distinctly mixed feelings among physicians.

The survey, presented to the Pharmaceutical Marketing Global Summit by FDA social science analyst Kathryn Aikin, was designed to explore the effects of direct-to-consumer drug advertising on doctor/patient relationships.

Of the 500-strong sample surveyed late last year (250 general practitioners and 250 specialists) 37% judged the overall impact of d-t-c advertising on their patients and their practice to have a “somewhat positive effect”.

But 5% said it had a “very negative” effect, 27% thought d-t-c advertising had a “somewhat negative effect”, and 28% believed there was no effect at all. Only 3% felt it had a “very positive effect”.

Aikin warned that the results were preliminary and therefore inconclusive so far as the FDA is concerned.

But despite the fact that the survey is considered an important barometer of physician attitudes on d-t-c advertising, she did not explain the curious fact that the sample was selected solely by pharmaceutical companies and their advertising agencies.

A number of key variables were examined, among them the overall impact on physician practices of d-t-c ads; physician attitudes as to benefits/problems in patient relationships; perceived pressure to prescribe drugs thus advertised; and physician attitudes regarding the level of patient understanding of such advertising.

The issue is expected to be a major topic of discussion and legislation in the 108th session of Congress and is currently under scrutiny by federal authorities for a perceived imbalance between the costs of promotion and cost of the drug.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff