Friday, September 05, 2008

Magazine direct-to-consumer pharma ads may not be very effective, study says

A study by the Harvard Medical School, sponsored in part by the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) suggests that direct-t0-consumer advertising in magazines for pharmaceuticals may not be as effective as previously thought.

Direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising is banned in Canada
. Canadian magazine publishers and magazine organizations have been pushing hard for the right to carry lucrative DTC ads from pharmaceutical companies, arguing that Canadian consumers are massively exposed to them in competing U.S. titles that don't publish specifically Canadian editions.

Researchers analyzed prescription statistics for each of three drugs for a five-year period. The data came from IMS Health Canada, a health information company that receives purchase data from a panel of about 2,700 Canadian pharmacies. Assuming that French-speaking Quebec residents are less likely to be exposed to U.S. magazine pharmaceutical ads leaking across the border, they were used as a control group, compared with English speaking Canadians.
“[Quebec]’s not an absolutely perfect control group,” says Michael Law, research fellow and lead author on the paper. “There’s obviously a small percentage of Quebec residents who are exposed to English language media. But as control groups go for this sort of observational study, it’s about as good as you get.”
Comparing three prescription drugs, the study found that, for two of the three -- Enbrel, for rheumatoid arthritis, and Nasonex, an allergy treatment -- there was no change of sales after campaigns started. The third, Zelnorm, a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, had a 40% increase immediately after its ad campaign began, but it flattened out quickly.
“People tend to think that if direct-to-consumer advertising wasn’t effective, pharma wouldn’t be doing it,” says Harvard Medical School professor Stephen Soumerai, principal investigator on the study. “But as it turns out, decisions to market directly to consumers is based on scant data....
"With a typical consumer product, an individual sees an ad and then can choose to simply go out and buy the item. But pharmaceuticals aren’t typical consumer products,” he said.

“A person needs to see an ad, get motivated by that ad, contact their doctor for an appointment, show up at the appointment, communicate both the condition and the drug to the doctor, convince the doctor that this drug is preferable to other alternatives, then actually go out and fill the prescription. This is a chain of events that can break at any point.”

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