Kaiser Poll: DTC Ads Have High Profile, But Mixed Reviews

Oct. 30, 2015 – The drug industry may have additional work to do to improve the public’s perception of its advertising, according to Kaiser Health Tracking Poll findings reported Oct. 28. Although a high percentage of the public (82 percent) reports having seen or heard a prescription drug direct-to-consumer (DTC) ad, only 51 percent of those people think that such advertising is a good thing. However, roughly half of those with a positive view of drug ads say the ads do a “good or excellent job” of informing consumers of the condition being treated and of the drug’s potential benefits and side effects.

The Kaiser poll, designed and analyzed by public opinion researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation, was conducted Oct. 14-20 among a nationally representative random digital dial telephone sample of 1,203 adults ages 18 and older living in the United States. One of the poll’s key findings focused on a topic that is gaining traction in the news and among potential presidential candidates: the costs of prescription drugs.

The public “largely prioritizes the same issues they did in April, with the cost of prescription drugs rising to the top,” the Kaiser report states. “Making sure that high-cost drugs for chronic conditions, such as HIV, hepatitis, mental illness and cancer, are affordable to those who need them is viewed as a top priority by 77 percent of the public and more than 7 in 10 across party lines,” the report continues. At least half of those polled “say government action to lower prescription drug prices should be a top priority.” Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has already gone on the record saying that controlling drug prices would be a priority for her if elected.

Of those polled, 62 percent say there is not as much regulation as there should be limiting the price of prescription drugs, but “the public is more divided about the amount of regulation ensuring the safety of drugs and overseeing claims made in drug advertisements.” Roughly half (47 percent) of those polled say there should be more safety oversight and 43 percent say there is “not as much government regulation as there should be making sure that statements about benefits and possible side effects made in advertisements for prescription drugs are accurate and not misleading.” Kaiser also found that 45 percent of respondents believe there is the right amount of advertising oversight and 7 percent say there is too much oversight.

“Drugs, drug safety, drug prices and drug communication are top of mind for many Americans, so it is not surprising that politicians – including presidential aspirants – are proposing ‘solutions’ to perceived problems,” said Coalition for Healthcare Communication Executive Director John Kamp. “The challenge for politicians, policy makers and the public is to not blindly adopt laws and regulations that make matters worse rather than better. For example, information on the availability, usefulness and side effects of drugs is immensely useful. At the same time, drug advertising is currently among the most regulated forms of marketing in the United States and sometimes these regulations create more confusion than clarity,” he asserted.

“Thankfully, FDA itself is planning scientific studies of the effects of some drug advertising regulations, specifically the long and often overly-detailed list of side effects and contraindications currently required in DTC ads. While reform seems obvious, let’s wait for the science to come in and then proceed with caution,” Kamp advised.

In terms of DTC ad consumer response, Kaiser reports that 28 percent of those polled talked to their doctor after hearing or seeing an ad for a prescription drug. Of those, their doctors:

  • Recommended that they make changes in their behavior or lifestyle (15 percent)
  • Recommended a different prescription drug (14 percent)
  • Gave them the prescription drug they asked about (12 percent)
  • Recommended an over-the-counter drug (11 percent)

Kaiser noted an “overwhelming majority” of those polled say they “favor requiring the [FDA] to review prescription drug advertisements for accuracy and clarity before they can be aired to the public.” This opinion, also shared by Hillary Clinton, “is held by nearly identical shares of Republicans, Democrats, and independents,” the findings state.

Among other findings that relate to health plans and the Affordable Care Act, Kaiser found that 57 percent of Americans think pharmaceutical companies spend too much money advertising to patients and 62 percent believe that companies spend too much money advertising to doctors.

While industry waits for the FDA’s studies of DTC advertising to conclude, “Let’s be clear that the focus on drug costs relative to the costs of other medical issues is often misguided,” according to Kamp. “Drug costs are more visible and more directly paid by individuals in this country than are hospital and doctor visits. This magnifies the individual – and thus political – focus on these costs.

“We must better understand these costs in the broader context, and especially understand the cost/value proposition of medicines,” he concluded. “The industry and its associations, particularly PhRMA, are focusing on these issues. It’s important that we pay full attention, and join these efforts in order to help the public and public policy leaders better understand them.”

To view the full Kaiser report, go to: http://kff.org/health-costs/poll-finding/kaiser-health-tracking-poll-october-2015/