Seniors learn some things from prescription drug advertisements, but can also be misled

Research Activities, November 2012, No. 387

Direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of prescription drugs to consumers is currently only permitted in the United States and New Zealand, where it remains controversial. Proponents of DTCA claim that advertisements help inform consumers and facilitate their involvement in clinical decisions about prescription drugs. A study examined 15 seniors' perceptions of 9 television ads to understand how the ads might help consumers make informed decisions about prescription drugs. Four themes emerged from the interviews of the 15 seniors:

  1. Awareness of medications was increased.
  2. Information was missing or misleading and drugs were often perceived as more effective than evidence would suggest.
  3. Most seniors were more strongly influenced by personal or vicarious experience with a drug—and by their physician—than by DTCA.
  4. Most seniors were circumspect about the information in commercial DTCA.

The researchers concluded that there was some potential for benefit from DTCA, but there were also critical shortcomings of the current ad format. They identified several ways in which advertisements could be improved to better facilitate informed decisionmaking, such as inclusion of the importance of lifestyle changes in the ads, and legislative action to improve utility of DTCA. They also recommended comprehensive counseling by physicians prior to prescribing new drugs to patients to clarify any misperceptions. This study was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (T32 HS00046).

See "Seniors' perceptions of prescription drug advertisements: A pilot study of the potential impact on informed decision making" by Jerry L. Grenard, PhD, Visith Uy, B.S., Jose A. Pagan, PhD, and Dominick L. Frosch, PhD, in Patient Education and Counseling 85, pp. 79-84, 2012.


Current as of November 2012
Internet Citation: Seniors learn some things from prescription drug advertisements, but can also be misled: Research Activities, November 2012, No. 387. November 2012. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.