Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Pros & Cons of Advertising Pharmaceuticals From a Patient Point of View

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In November 2015, the American Medical Association called for a ban on advertisements for both medications and devices. As an engaged patient, I have very mixed feelings about this idea.

Reducing ads could, as the AMA hopes, help to reduce both demand and pricing for drugs. It can also help to reduce the process that makes a person feel medications are necessary for everything, which is the same mindset that contributes to the overuse of antibiotics in upper respiratory infections.

As a part of this, the AMA is looking into launching a task force to work on drug prices - something that is so needed, especially in the wake of people like Martin Shkreli raising prices for life-saving drugs.

It's also worth noting that the only other nation allowing direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising is New Zealand.

This move would appease some patients as well, tired of thinking taking a medication will make them as sporty as a professional golfer only to be disappointed in the end... or, like myself, yelling at the ads for medications that haven't helped when they pop up.

Patients often believe, whether through their own accord or through the way ads are worded and framed, that these medications will cure them. The disappointment when that doesn't happen can actually influence the patient's health.

It's happened to me enough times.

Still, some ads are getting better. Some pharmaceutical companies have started to hold focus groups with patients to preview ads and give feedback which is both smart and a nice way to bridge the gap.

Taking away these ads will be detrimental to some patients.

While the medication I'm on now to control my Systemic Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (SJIA) isn't advertised, I had a hard time getting on it. It's unfortunate because, along with being one of the only FDA-approved treatments specifically for SJIA, this drug has gotten my inflammation markers to the low-end of those experienced by a person without an autoimmune or autoinflammatory disease - something that I haven't experienced since November 1994.

Being an engaged patient, I brought journal articles and notes from a conversation with a highly regarded pediatric rheumatologist who is an expert in SJIA regarding this medication. My rheumatologist at the time was not well versed in this specific illness or the medications. I stayed for a while, trying to plead my case, but eventually had to move on to a new rheumatologist.

Advertising gives patients without access to journal articles and studies, often blocked by paywalls, the ability to learn more about a medication that could very rightly help them. That patient can then investigate the drug's website, check a site like that gives full information for physicians and patients, or ask friends and family if they've had positive experiences with this drug.

One thing is for sure - pharmaceutical ads need to change with the changing healthcare climate. Patients want and need to be more engaged in their care, which means knowing the truth about medications, good and bad.

In my perfect world, there would still be some pharmaceutical ads. However, what is portrayed would change. Real patients would be involved, speaking the truth on their experiences instead of from a script. There would be forums on the drug websites where you could discuss side effects, as well as links to open access journal articles and drug information sites. Diversity, something lacking especially in inflammatory arthritis medication ads, would be prevalent. I could see someone younger than 40 taking an arthritis drug!

Hopefully, this will change in time so that we don't have to explain to my three-year-old niece what erectile dysfunction is.

About the author:

Kirsten Schultz is a health activist and blogger. You can read more about her life living with multiple chronic illnesses on her blog, on Creaky Joints, or follow her on Twitter.  

She will also be joining us this year at ePharma as an official guest blogger sharing insights from the event.  ePharma will take place February 29 - March 2, 2016, in New York City.  As a reader of this blog, when you register to join us with priority code EPHARMA16BL, you can save $100 off current rates!
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