Getting Our Facts Straight About Pharma Marketing

Getting Our Facts Straight About Pharma Marketing When people think about marketing and health and, specifically, pharmaceutical drug advertising, many respond negatively and assume the worst. And with the stratospheric rise in health care costs, Big Pharma advertising has become an easy target. So to clear the air, I'd like to address some of the more common claims against the pharmaceutical industry's marketing activities in the United States (data come from, IMS Health, New York Times and eMarketer).

Claim: Physicians are being pressured into prescribing the medications by their patients unduly influenced by pharma advertising.

Fact: A recent physician survey by KRC Research found that 92% say their clinical knowledge and 88% say a patient's unique situation greatly influence their prescribing decisions. Thirty-five percent point to patients' health insurance coverage as an important factor in prescribing, while only 5% say they often give the patient a prescription for the medicine requested.



Additionally, 50% of doctors report that they frequently recommend lifestyle or behavior changes, 18% recommend over-the-counter options and 14% recommend no treatment at all Additionally, according to an FDA survey, 73% of physicians polled stated that DTC ads helped patients ask thoughtful questions, and 91% said the patient did not try to influence the course of treatment in a way that would have been harmful.

Claim: Drug advertising promotes expensive branded drugs when much-lower cost generics are available.

Fact: A recent New York Times article stated that today 70% of all prescriptions used in the United States are for generics. This has increased sharply since 2000 when it generics accounted for only 49% of prescriptions.

Claim: Drug advertising increases health care costs.

Fact: Total promotional spending by pharma companies ranges from $15 billion to $50 billion, depending on the source and how one defines "marketing." (For instance, the larger number includes the cost to support pharmaceutical sales teams who call on physicians and provide free samples that many doctors provide to patients who do not have health insurance. A small percentage or about 15% goes to the most visible type of promotions -- direct to consumer advertising.) If you compare these expenditures to total U.S. health care spending of $2.26 trillion you can quickly see that even on the high side of pharma spending estimates, promotional spending accounts for only about 2% of the total health care costs.

Claim: Drug advertising leads to over-prescribing.

Fact: Numerous studies show that U.S. health care costs would actually decrease dramatically if more people with chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease were prescribed, and stayed on, prescription medications, thus eliminating millions of emergency room visits, costly procedures and hospital stays -- the real driver of health care costs. For instance, by eliminating the underuse of high blood pressure medicines, 89,000 lives could be saved and 420,000 hospitalizations avoided annually. Overall, non-adherence has been estimated to cost the U.S. $100 - 300 billion annually in avoidable health spending.

The fact is, the U.S. pharmaceutical industry has saved millions of lives and improved the quality of life for millions more -- here in the U.S. and abroad. Let's avoid taking the easy step of jumping on the pharma-bashing bandwagon without any recognition of the benefits that the pharma industry brings to all of us. And let's get our facts straight about pharma marketing once and for all.

4 comments about "Getting Our Facts Straight About Pharma Marketing ".
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  1. Jeffrey Weiser from Self Employed, May 14, 2010 at 11:54 a.m.

    Nice try, considering the source of this post ( "And let's get the facts straight once and for all" is the last line of the article. Ok... please post pictures of the homes of the top 100 executives in the pharmaceutical industry to go along with your article. Then we'll have the facts straight once and for all.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 14, 2010 at 1:04 p.m.

    You know that little $50 Billion ? Got money? How about an investigative film crew following you to the hospitals and doctors to watch you turning away patients and telling them that 50 billion needs to be spent on marketing and advertising instead of them who have been thrown out of the medical system?

  3. Richard Meyer, May 25, 2010 at 10:59 a.m.

    What you forget is that facts mean little today for time starved consumers who often scan headlines, it's perception and fighting perception, even with facts, is very difficult. The drug industry does save a lot of lives and allows patients to lead a better quality of life but the missteps that are amplified by the media lead to a negative perception that is hard to overcome via any print. It has to be done via consistent transparency and earning consumers trust one patient at a time

  4. Scott Pegram, June 14, 2010 at 6:57 p.m.

    Mr. Kadar neglected to mention one important fact in his article. While advertising is considered by many to be an expense, the reality is that advertising is an investment in your product / business that should bring a return on investment. This becomes necessary, many times, for the pharmaceutical companies to make "back" the initial billions of dollars of investment from the development and testing of new medications. While generics are viewed as the "money saver," they can also be less effective and/or obsolete in their treatment benefits. In order to develop new medications to improve health outcomes, the pharmaceutical companies are BILLIONS in the hole by the time they are able to market or advertise a new medication. Also, from my experience in medical sales, a physician would NOT prescribe a drug just because they like me (or my pens or note pads!). It must have a benefit OVER another treatment option!

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