Direct-to-Consumer Advertising

Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) advertising is a form of marketing in which advertisements for pharmaceutical products are directed at consumers, in addition to medical providers and payers. The discussion about DTC is centered on whether direct-to-consumer advertising provides value for consumers, prompts appropriate use, and whether it increases diagnosis of otherwise overlooked medical problems.

DTC became a prominent issue in 1997, after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) loosened restrictions on pharmaceutical advertising, though the FDA tightly regulates the contents of advertisements. Since 1997, critics of DTC advertising have maintained that it prompts overtreatment and over-diagnosis, resulting in a neutral or negative impact on public health, with increased spending. To address growing concerns about DTC advertising, in August 2005, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) approved and released voluntary guiding principles for industry to follow in developing DTC advertising. Key elements include:

  • Submitting all advertisements to the FDA prior to broadcast;
  • Transparency regarding what the advertised medication is intended to treat;
  • Balanced presentation of risks and benefits; and
  • Educating care providers about a medicine before reaching out to consumers.

In 2002-2003, two National Pharmaceutical Council projects assessed the impact of DTC advertising on patients and physicians. Although DTC remains an important industry issue, it is not a core focus of NPC’s research today.