Can you believe it? “DTC [direct-to-consumer] ads have ‘limited’ educational value and may ‘oversell’ the benefits of drugs in way that may conflict with promoting health,” according to a study published in The Annals of Family Medicine.
Maybe it’s because they are advertisements, which Merriam-Webster says are used to “to call public attention to especially by emphasizing desirable qualities so as to arouse a desire to buy or patronize.”
[via Kevin, MD]
Nearly half of Americans don’t understand the information on drug websites that are created specifically for the public. The FDA news bulletin summarizes:
Understanding content on the average drug website requires 12 years of education, meaning that only 55 percent of the U.S. population can fully understand the information provided on these sites, the analysis by healthcare marketing firm Campbell-Ewald Health found. More than three-quarters of the websites do not offer information in Spanish, and only half were designed using standard guidelines to improve the usability and accessibility of websites, the study showed.
There’s a “plain language” movement in the government, which seeks to make written material easy to read, understand and use. These drug sites aren’t prepared by government employees (at least I hope not!), but the concept should be the same. What’s the point in providing information to the public that they can’t understand?
My job when I worked for a government agency was to edit material so that it was not presented in a standoffish and unnecessarily complicated manner. It was nearly impossible.
My theory is that people use overly complex language and sentence construction so they appear smarter. If I say “utilize” instead of “use” or “at this juncture in time” instead of “at this time,” do I seem more intelligent? No, I seem obtuse and unfriendly (not to mention that I’m misusing the words).
Pet peeves aside, drug companies should have this same goal. They are trying to sell drugs to the public; they should reach out to their potential customers. Unless, of course, they don’t want patients to be able to understand side effects or clinical trial results.
I wonder how many patients are put off by the website and take the drug anyway.
Thanks to my dear friend L for sharing this article with me.
Researchers Urge FDA To Require Prescription Drug Risks To Be Placed Prominently in Ads
- Information about drug risks must be presented in a more consumer-friendly format and displayed more prominently in ads (Ruth Day, Assistant Professor at Duke University)
- After reading or viewing a drug ad, “80% of people can recall what a drug’s benefits are; 20% can recall what the side effects are.” (Ruth Day)
- FDA should have a mandatory review of ads before they are released (AstraZeneca, written testimony)
- FDA shouldn’t micromanage drug ads (John Kamp, Coalition for Healthcare Communication
- It’s critical, from a public health standpoint, that the advertisements are truthful and balanced (Janet Woodcock, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Operations)
A two-day FDA public forum on direct-to-consumer drug advertising began today. Spurred on by public and political opposition to current DTC ads, the FDA will use information gathered during the forum to issue advertising guidelines.
In an attempt to stave off regulation, industry trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (aka PhRMA) issued its own guidelines earlier this year. Those guidelines don’t take effect until January 2006. Drug companies spent $2.94 billion on ads from January through August 2005. 2004 spending for the same period was $2.88 billion.
For more details about the controversy leading up to this week’s meetings, read ‘Ask Your Doctor’ Ads in FDA Crosshairs. CNN describes dug companies’ reimaging attempts in Drug Industry Could Use a Face Lift.