Direct to Consumer Advertising
Direct to Consumer Advertising (DTCA) of prescription medicines causes considerable public harm through misinformation and stimulation of unsuitable or unnecessary demand for costly treatment, leading to inappropriate prescribing. The College advocates that legislation should be amended to prioritise the protection of public health over the interests of private industry: Prohibition of DTCA of prescription medication should be introduced.
Read the full position statement
Why is the College interested in DTCA?
DTCA increases the likelihood of the consumer requesting the advertised product and/or believing they have a condition. Our members are usually the clinician being asked to prescribe a medication by patients.
While GPs are skilled at assessing and communicating whether the requested medication is appropriate, patient demand has been shown to result in an overall increase in prescribing. Inappropriate prescribing and polypharmacy can cause harm to the patient and creates unnecessary costs for both the patient and health system. Furthermore, unwarranted patient demand can damage the highly valued doctor-patient relationship.
Under current legislation, pharmaceutical companies are able to advertise their prescription-only medicines directly to consumers through television, magazines, newspapers, radio and other mass media. There is currently work underway to replace this legislation and its regulations with a new regime for therapeutic products. This presents an opportunity to prohibit DTCA of prescription medications.
A common argument in support of DTCA is that it informs and educates patients about medication options – particularly those not on the pharmaceutical schedule, which empowers them in their own healthcare decision-making. Additionally, as the promoted medications require a prescription, DTCA may contribute to increased interaction between consumers and clinicians, and with healthcare providers in general. Another purported benefit of DTCA of prescription medications is that it may prevent some ‘under-diagnosis’ and under-treatment of conditions by prompting patient enquiry about symptoms and conditions. Supporters of DTCA assert that the need to consult a prescriber to access the medication is considered sufficient public protection against any risks association with the pharmaceutical.
However, evidence indicates that product and ‘health information’ provided in DTCA is not of sufficient quality to be considered educational. Advertisements are often vague, misleading, unbalanced, use emotional appeals and can be misinterpreted as a public health message. It is argued that DTCA undermines the value of scientific evidence through its misuse and that DTCA alters the public’s perceptions of the safety of prescription medications. Some forms of DTCA, that describe ‘conditions’ and ‘symptoms’ medicalise normal human experiences and contribute to the social psyche that medication is the first choice of treatment for health concerns.