Is it good to have pharma ads on tv ?

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.


  1. says

    I get American television through cable here in Canada and it’s interesting to watch these ads. So many of them blend together with pleasant looking people doing pleasant looking activities while the voiceover explains some of the potential side effects up to and including death.

    One phrase I’ve noticed more frequently is “my doctor and I decided…” and I’m sorry, but I have no medical training. I am in no way qualified to be included in that decision beyond “is my quality of life impacted in such a way that I’m willing to risk the side effects?”

  2. sonofrojblake says

    Betteridge’s Law is currently a subject over a Fierce Roller. It applies here.

    One phrase I’ve noticed more frequently is “my doctor and I decided…” and I’m sorry, but I have no medical training.

    To quote Michael Gove, UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, “the public have had enough of experts”. Apparently.

    A couple of months ago, I presented with a recently-bolted-back-together broken ankle to my local orthopaedic specialist, who asked me what I wanted to do next. He seemed taken aback when I informed him that I am a chemical engineer, and was rather hoping that he would be in a better position to tell me what to do next. Which he then did, so fair enough. I shall have no truck with this “my doctor and I decided” nonsense unless the question is along the lines of “do you want to die peacefully of an overdose today, or painfully of the cancer six weeks from now?”.

  3. says

    Something else I was reminded of today, and it’s been one of my peeves with these since I first noticed it, is that everything gets addressed by initials when possible. The commercial I was watching today was about PE and DVT (pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis) but anything with two or more words gets referred to by initials. I assume this works because they keep doing it, but I’m curious about the psychology behind it.

    • voyager says

      It’s medical speak. Your 2 examples are both well-established medical short forms. If there’s a quicker way to write it or say it a Dr. will do so.

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