Drug company ads and hypochondriacs

Direct to the public adverts of pharmaceuticals featured in Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog this week. The EU Pharmaceuticals Forum is apparently reconsidering its 2004 knockback of the drug companies’ demands and it is possible that we, in Europe, may have the joy of medicine adverts targetted at the public, just as they do in the USA.

Goldacre points out that drug companies wouldn’t want to advertise to us if it didn’t work, in terms of more sales. He thinks that the public are pretty gullible suckers for pseudomedical claims, whoever makes them, whether it’s supplement companies or big multinationals.

He says that the companies’ plans are even shadier than just having the ads. They want to educate the public, the pretty certain outcome of which will be people demanding more and more medication.

Very good points. You have to doubt whether doctors are really quite as wise in resisting drug reps’ claims as he says, though. Following the same argument, if it didn’t work, drug companies wouldn’t pay reps to visit them, not to mention give out minor freeby inducements like pens and notepads. I’ve never visited a doctor whose desk wasn’t piled with the stuff.

Maybe it’s just not working quite as well as it used to.

The comments are pretty lively. One American says that our European governments don’t trust us to make our own minds up, which brings up the issue of whether doctors’ objections to direct advertising can be seen as just a ‘professionals versus the public’ thing.

I really think not. I haven’t spent 5 years in medical school. To be totally accurate about this, I haven’t actually spent any years in medical school. (Three days of first aid training can’t really compete, here.) I would normally argue the toss about anything with anyone, but, when I feel sick, I want someone who knows what they are doing to prescribe for me. I would certainly trust their ability to interpret the contra-indications and possible side-effects better than I can.

In fact, when I visit the doctor, my NHS doctors already go to extremes in consulting me about what I think is wrong and what they should give me, as if my avid Googling can be fairly set at an equal with their years of experience.

I appreciate this fine if it’s some minor whine, but Unknowable-void forbid that I ever turn up there with something that Google can’t cure.

For Tooth-Fairy’s sake, I can’t even remember enough about the adverts to know what the ones that I’ve downloaded the music from are advertising. (Yes, downloading advert music is indeed a sad pursuit.)

If I am to start badgering my doctor to give me obscure new tablets for conditions that were previously considered a normal part of life, I can expect to get a fair few treatments for vetinarary mange and congenital Marfan’s syndrome before I find out that I got them mixed them up with a headache and stubbed toe.

A comment by someone called Pluralist says

In the US the pharma supply more than half of TV advertising revenue, each doctor in the US benefits from $20,000 annually in pharma hospitality. The industry control the FDA and the CDC. Ordinary people cannot afford medical care. Trust in the medical profession is minimal: we can do without advancing into this culture.

No idea about the accuracy of the figures. A comment on a blog is probably not a wholly validated source but I’ll take them as meaning that US TV and doctors get a huge amount of revenue from drug companies. I can see there being a big TV lobby in favour of tapping a new source of funds.

Our commercial TV channels are falling into ever deeper pits as ad revenue falls. To the point that they all seem to have been engaged in bilking the section of the public that’s either unwary or drunk enough to spend a pound a time on entering unwinnable competitions.

Given the right adverts, a good number of the people who are entering these Challenges and ITV Plays now would be fair game for deciding they are depressed and need some mood-enhancement instead. People with ongoing health conditions are going to start badgering their doctors for miracle cure X and amazing new Y, as seen on TV. The more “educative” information they give us, the more opinionated we’ll be and the more likely a GP is going to hand them out without bothering to argue the finer points of different approaches. Lots of us are going to start interpreting every twinge as a sign of an underlying disorder that we need to get treated.

I’m not saying the doctor is always right. Some are too busy, too distracted or just rubbish. Often, we do know more about our ailments than they do. (We only have one patient to think about and we know every detail of their lives.) It just seems a bit safer to trust their judgement than the judgement of pharmaceutical company Z, as filtered through an advertising agency that can spend more on a single ad than your GP gets in ayear.

2 thoughts on “Drug company ads and hypochondriacs

  1. Everything (EVERYTHING!) will become a disease, syndrome, disorder, or infection that can only be fixed with a magic pill (ignore the side effects).

    Can’t sleep? That’s because you’ve got Reverse Anti-Narcosepsis Hypochromatic Deficit Disorder (RANHDD, for those that are “in the know”). Don’t know what it is? That’s OK, the drug companies will tell you.

  2. Pingback: How depressing is this? | Why Dont You Blog?

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