Rodale Survey Finds More Consumers Comparing Drugs Online

In the face of critics who say direct-to-consumer marketing of prescription drugs tends to send consumers racing to their doctors for a dose, the 10th annual national survey on Consumer Reaction to DTC Advertising of Prescription Medicines has found that just 8% ask their doctors for a specific medication after seeing a DTC ad.

Perhaps the biggest change found in the survey, says Cary Silvers, director of Consumer and Advertising Trends at Rodale, is the change in consumer behavior.

"We're picking up a trend where more consumers are looking to be able to compare one medicine to another," he says. Since 2005, the percentage of people who compare drugs online has risen 15 points, to 61%.

The annual survey is conducted by Prevention, Men's Health and Women's Health magazines, with technical assistance from the FDA's Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising, and Communication.

The desire for on-demand information is "another element that [the direct-to-consumer industry] has to contend with in additional to the traditional gatekeepers," Silvers says. Acknowledging that Rodale publications profit by DTC advertising, he notes that there are many opinions, pro and con, on the issue. "We bring the voice of the consumer."

The survey found that the No. 1 action taken by consumers after seeing a DTC ad is information seeking--before, during and even after a prescription is filled.

Other key findings, according to Rodale:

  • Most consumers (68%) claim they know a lot about their medical condition or illness, the benefits of the prescription medicines they take (67%), and the risks (59%). Consumers who claim to be knowledgeable are also more likely to talk to their doctor about an advertised drug.
  • Even after a prescription is filled, the majority of consumers (75%) are still looking for information about their medications. Twenty-nine percent of these consumers find themselves stopping to read/watch an advertisement.
  • More consumers agree or somewhat agree (73%) that DTC ads allow people to be more involved with their health care.
  • Increasingly, consumers want to know more than the risks and benefits of the medicines they are taking. They also want to know how the medicine's effectiveness compares to other medicines--61% vs. 46% in 2005; how the medicine treats their condition--76% vs. 70% last year; and how it interacts with other medicines--66% vs. 57% last year.
  • A little more than half of consumers (56%) are currently taking a prescription drug. Ten years ago, that figure was 47.
  • Among the 36% of consumers who remember seeing any disease awareness ad, half (52%) say they have either talked with their doctor, a friend or family member or searched for additional information online.