In brief: How advertising affects prescriptions

In brief

How advertising affects prescriptions

Advertising prescription drugs directly to the public on television has become big business, and its effects are being contemplated with apprehension or satisfaction. Advocates say the ads are educational and encourage the use of effective treatments that would otherwise be neglected. Critics say the commercials lead to overprescribing — use of drugs that are too expensive, not appropriate, or risky.

Many physicians would say that the issue is moot because they do not allow television programming or advertising to affect their practice at all. An experiment by researchers at the University of California, Davis shows that, at least in the case of antidepressant drugs, the skeptical doctors are probably wrong.

The experimenters employed actors to present themselves as patients with symptoms of depressed mood or clinical depression to internists and family doctors. The physicians were warned that these actors would appear among their patients at some time during a period of a few months, but were not told when. Later, few admitted a suspicion about any particular patient, and none said it affected their decisions.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »