I got new medical knowledge watching ads in American TV the other day.
Being a practicing medical doctor specialised in Internal Medicine, who tries to keep his awareness of medical advancement in his field up to date, this was a surprise for me. The ad I am referring to was about a monthly injection to prevent migraine headache approved last year by US FDA.
After going through the literature of the new drug, a monoclonal antibody, I realised that there is hardly any chance that I will be using it in near future. It’s effectiveness is not that much and comes with a huge cost as per Indian standards. But the ad is frequently shown on tv and I am sure now a majority of tv viewing public in USA would be aware of it and might be enquiring about it to their health care providers. Is that good or bad ?
As I realised in my current visit, Pharma ads are very frequent in American TV. It’s the same in India too but with a big difference. In India major chunk of the ads are for alternative medicines which has no scientific proof of efficacy or safety. Also most of them are products that could be bought over the counter without any prescription. In this way Indian viewers are tempted to buy products of dubious efficacy and safety. On the other hand American viewers are just given awareness of FDA approved products and is only asked to enquire about it to their treating physicians.
So can we conclude that pharma ads in USA is a good thing ?
May be not. Ads give unrealistic hope to patients. Most of these ads are for those drugs with marginal benefit but at a huge cost. Those which have a huge benefit need not be advertised as physicians will prescribe them anyway without patients asking for it. Demand for not so effective but expensive drugs may increase the burden on health care system as a whole and insurance premiums may increase further.
Pharmas directly communicating to the patient about one of their product is not such a good idea. At the same time general ads that aim to give awareness about a disease and stress on the need for early diagnosis and treatment are good for the society as a whole.