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DTC in Perspective: American Medical Association(AMA) Calls for DTC Ban

Bob Ehrlich

“The AMA wants to control the flow of drug information…” -Bob Ehrlich

The AMA announced through a statement on 11/17 that they just voted to support a ban on DTC advertising. They cited the causes as over-prescribing of more expensive treatments and rising prescription prices. The AMA is being hypocritical since doctors advertise directly to consumers. Insurance companies advertise health coverage to consumers. Labs and test centers advertise. Hospitals advertise. Dentists advertise.

AMA is not calling to ban ads for any of these health care services, just drugs. AMA is essentially saying consumers do not need the information provided in DTC ads because the doctor knows best. Consumers should remain uninformed of new drug options because they may ask for them and force compliant doctors to prescribe something they prefer not to. It seems they think their members have no ability to say no to an inappropriate consumer request.

The AMA wants to control the flow of drug information because it has this outdated notion that consumers are better off knowing less. DTC is advertised information, clearly done to spur drug demand. It is but one source of information for consumers. The savvy consumer knows it is advertising and is skeptical of the claims made. They are information hungry and may use DTC as a starting point to search out reviews of the advertised drug as well as alternatives.

The days of the all knowing doctor who only has patient best interest in mind are over. Doctors are human, sometimes not up to date on drugs, and they are busy. Sometimes they take the easy route and prescribe what they are used to writing. DTC forces doctors to be aware of what is advertised. If they have to answer patient inquiries on DTC advertised drugs then so be it and welcome to the information age.

Today we have competing financial interests in the health care industry. Payers want to pay less for drugs, consumers want the best medications, and doctors get caught in the squeeze between insurers and patients. Government is also involved in trying to reduce cost and would also prefer to keep patients out of the drug selection discussion.

AMA can call for whatever action they like but advertising is free speech. After almost 20 years of seeing DTC broadcast ads, you think they would have by now learned to deal with patients asking about drug brands. DTC will not be banned and AMA would help consumers more by doing studies on how doctor and patient can more effectively select and properly take drugs. Calling for a ban is easy to do but not very helpful for consumers. Hilary and Bernie will applaud, and use the AMA call for a ban as support for their anti-drug company rhetoric.

While DTC will not realistically face an outright ban, drug companies, advertising agencies, and media sellers need to be aware that there is a lot that can happen short of a ban. FDA can make advertising execution more onerous through more stringent risk and fair balance requirements, and Congress can use tax policy to restrict advertising deductibility. Everyone in the DTC space should be politically active, contact their Congressmen to oppose DTC restrictions, and understand Hilary is dead serious in her dislike for drug companies. There is very little political downside bashing drug companies so expect them to be a featured villain in the 2016 election soap opera.

Bob Ehrlich
Chairman & Chief Executive Officer at DTC Perspectives
Bob Ehrlich has over 20 years marketing experience in pharmaceutical and consumer products. Bob is the CEO of DTC Perspectives, Inc., a DTC services company founded in 2000. DTC Perspectives, Inc. developed the DTC National Conference, the largest DTC conference in the industry. DTC Perspectives, Inc. also publishes DTC Perspectives, a quarterly journal dedicated to DTC issues and practices. In addition DTC Perspectives, Inc. does DTC consulting for established and emerging companies, and provides DTC marketing plans for pharmaceutical companies.
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