When the U.S. Food & Drug Administration eased the rules for direct-to-consumer advertising last August, there was speculation that pharmaceutical manufacturers would take full advantage of the opportunity. Bull's-eye.
Scott-Levin, the health care consultant, says half of drug manufacturers' ad dollars were spent on television during the first two months of 1998 — almost double the pace set in 1997. And IMS Health, which tracks drug trends, predicts all spending on direct-to-consumer advertising will reach $1.3 million in 1998, 50 percent more than in 1997.
Not surprisingly, IMS found corresponding increases in patient requests for specific drugs. In response, managed care plans are redoubling physician education efforts about formularies.
In a speech to health care and business leaders, Richard Waltermire, R.Ph., a senior vice president for Pharmacy Gold, the pharmacy benefit management company, warned that direct-to-consumer ads play down drugs' side effects and raise unrealistic consumer expectations about quality of life.
But whether TV advertising affects prescribing is still a matter of debate. In the Scott-Levin audit, 60 percent of doctors said direct-to-consumer ads are not always reliable sources of information.