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Oct202015

Consumers can expect more accessible explanation of risks in pharmaceutical advertisements 

Whether they are in print or some other broadcast medium, we are constantly bombarded with pharmaceutical advertisements. We are all too familiar with the format in which these advertisements appear: captivating images and/or compassionate and motivating speech with large text to draw your attention, convincing us that a particular agent can improve our lives in some otherwise ailing capacity. This is followed by a line of fine print, or the remaining few seconds of a commercial, rambling off a list of risks and side effects described in scientific jargon most viewers/listeners cannot understand. Even if we are able to comprehend the science, the risks are presented too quickly or in print too small to take in. Sure, most of these ads say to speak with your doctor about the risks before taking X drug, but why aren’t these risks easily and initially accessible to us? When we purchase food items, we may find printed cautions such that the food had been handled/manufactured with other products containing soy or peanuts (important for individuals with allergies or sensitivities to consider). If we as consumers are to take the drug into our bodies, then we should be fairly presented with the risks as well.

This may soon change, as the FDA is beginning to put into place regulations about how risks are displayed in direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) since the administration acknowledges that the way in which they are presented currently are not effective. The FDA proposes to use language more likely to be understood by consumers. However, there are other questions that are being raised: how to determine if the language is too technical or too simplistic for delivering information to consumers? How much information should ads contain so that they are sufficient without being too lengthy? Should all known risks and side effects be included or only those more likely to occur or those most serious? In the 30 years of DTCA, there have been a number of efforts to improve the way in which important information is conveyed to consumers. Questions such as those brought up above in addition to other issues and concerns will need to be addressed to improve message delivery in DTCA. What is clear is that companies should put in as much effort into delivering information about risks as they do into selling their products. 

-AB

Greene, J. A., & Watkins, E. S. (2015). The Vernacular of Risk—Rethinking Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of Pharmaceuticals. New England journal of medicine, 373 (12), 1087-1089.

 

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