Drug and Medical Device Company Advertising to Physicians

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I have written before about the interactions between physicians, on the one hand, and pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers, on the other hand, and how these relationships can adversely impact upon patient care (Generic vs. Brand Name DrugsDrug Company Marketing & Physician Bias).  Not surprisingly, there are several previously published research studies that have confirmed that the prescribing habits of physicians can be significantly affected by the marketing activities of pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing companies.  (Estimates of pharmaceutical marketing expenditures in the United States, alone, range from about $30 billion to year up to about $57 billion per year, indicating that pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers are well aware of the effectiveness of their marketing and promotional campaigns that directly target both physicians and patients.)

In the current issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery is a rather disturbing clinical research study that further calls into question some of the advertising strategies directed at physicians by drug and medical device manufacturers.

In this study, five academic Ear, Nose and Throat surgeons (Otolaryngologists) reviewed 50 specific claims that were made for medical products within 23 individual advertisements.  All of these advertisements were displayed in prominent peer-reviewed otolaryngology professional journals.  Each of these five physician-reviewers had significant experience as editorial reviewers, and several of these physicians had also previously undergone intensive training in research methodology and scientific methods.

Among the 50 separate claims made within these 23 advertisements, only 14 of these claims (28 percent of the total claims) were determined to be based on solid scientific evidence.  While there was not uniform agreement in every case on the part of all five physician-reviewers, when any three of these five academic physicians were in agreement regarding their findings, only five of the 50 claims (10 percent of the total) were deemed to be accurate and correct!  At the same time, only 3 of the 50 claims (6 percent of the total) were considered to be well supported by clinical research data! 

This interesting study points out several very important considerations.  First of all, and as I have already noted, drug and medical device manufacturers don’t spent tens of billions of their hard-earned dollars on marketing every year as a casual undertaking.  They invest this tremendous sum of money because they know, without a doubt, that these marketing dollars influence physicians to prescribe their products.  Secondly, in many cases, and as confirmed by this particular research study, the claims that pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers make, to both physicians and patients, are very often based on very flimsy scientific or clinical evidence (or, in many cases, no real evidence at all).  Therefore, significant patient care decisions are routinely made based solely upon the impact of advertisements (and based upon physician interactions with sales representatives) that provide no compelling scientific or clinical evidence to support the use of one particular medication or medical device over another.  At a time when we can no longer afford the health care system that we have now, and at a critical time when our nation is saddled with a debt burden that we also can no longer afford to sustain, the findings of this study, and others like it, should compel both physicians and the appropriate regulatory agencies to take a closer look at the rules that govern pharmaceutical and medical device advertising to both physicians and patients.

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Disclaimer:  As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity

Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author

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