FDA to Survey Clinicians on Direct-to-Consumer Drug Advertising

Lisa Pevtzow

April 24, 2013

Physicians and other healthcare professionals with prescribing ability will be polled about the effect of direct-to-consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical advertising in a new FDA survey, the agency announced last week.

The FDA hopes the study will help determine whether DTC drug marketing results in inappropriate requests for prescriptions or an overestimation by patients of their efficacy, according to FDA documents published in the Federal Register . It will also try to discern whether the millions of dollars of advertising affects the behavior of those who actually prescribe them. Approval for the study came from the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

"The FDA has faced numerous questions about the influence of DTC pharmaceutical marketing, because such advertising directly engages consumers and potentially affects interactions between patients and their physicians," according to the documents. "Those questions have grown more urgent with the growth of DTC advertising in recent years."

The study will seek responses from a nationally representative sample of 2000 healthcare workers, equally divided among general practitioners, specialists, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. Specialists will be drawn from fields targeted by DTC advertising, such as allergy, cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology, neurology, otolaryngology, psychiatry, pulmonology, rheumatology, and pain medicine. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants with prescribing privileges are included because of the increasingly vital role they are expected to play in primary care, according to the FDA.

A similar study conducted a decade ago discovered that about the same number of physicians thought DTC advertising had a positive effect on their practice as had a negative effect. One third had no opinion. However, that study is obsolete, said the FDA, because it did not include nurse practitioners or physician assistants and was not representative of nationwide demographics such as age, sex, and race. Questions in the new study will be based on the extensive research of DTC marketing during the past decade, providing a more nuanced view of the subject.

In 1997, the FDA effectively threw open the doors to DTC advertising when it removed a burdensome requirement that mandated drug companies include extensive risk information.

The FDA survey will try to discern awareness of drug promotion on the Internet, including social media sites.

Respondents will be recruited from a national Internet healthcare professional panel, which includes more than 70,000 healthcare providers, along with professional organizers. The survey will be administered online and will take about 20 minutes to finish.

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