Direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising works, a survey of patients from Pennsylvania, USA suggests. Almost half (45%) of survey participants said that they had asked their doctor about a specific prescription drug or medical procedure that was advertised on television or in a magazine. “I don’t know a physician who hasn’t been asked by at least one patient about a specific drug they saw advertised,” said Peter Lund, urologist and founder of poll organisers the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s Institute for Good Medicine.

“Most physicians are divided about whether or not pharmaceutical advertisements directed towards patients are good,” Dr Lund added. “Some say it’s good to have patients informed, while others say it’s bad because of induced demand and incorrect self-diagnosing. Our advice to Pennsylvania physicians is to be alert to what’s being advertised and be prepared to answer questions since there’s a good chance they’ll be asked.”

Dr Lund added that pharma is investing more on DTC advertising. According to a recent paper in The New England Journal of Medicine (http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/abstract/357/7/673), spending on DTC advertising increased by 330% in real terms between 1996 and 2005. “There’s clear evidence that the pharmaceutical industry is spending more to promote medications,” Dr Lund says. “If it wasn’t working for them, they wouldn’t be pumping more money into that budget area.”

However, the poll also offered some good news for generics houses. 53% of the survey respondents said they asked their doctor to prescribe a generic instead of a brand. Furthermore, almost 62% believe that brands and generics “are about the same”. “Although generics may not be available as ads are being run for newer drugs, patients know that once a generic is available, it will likely do the same trick for less money,” Dr Lund says. “Still, however, they’ll ask for a specific drug based upon what they remember seeing advertised.” By Mark Greener