Ventola defines Direct to Consumer Pharmaceutical Advertising (DTCA) as, “an effort made by a pharmaceutical company to promote its prescription products directly to patients” (par 2). Since its liberalization in 1997, a series of controversies have earmarked the existence of this form of advertising. Different interest groups have engaged in a tight battle some arguing that the whole concept is unethical while others maintaining that banning of the advertising approach would be a great form of injustice.
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As a matter of fact, both sides have logical propositions that are well supported by facts. This paper seeks to point out that while it is considered unethical by some countries and organizations, direct to consumer advertising is a great form of information communication that can positively impact on lives provided that proper regulations are put in place to curb unethical practices associated with it.
Opposing factions in the debate who in most cases are doctors, legislators and consumers found their arguments on the fact that the pharmaceutical companies rarely offer truthful information. In most cases, they fail to highlight the side effects and other risk factors associated with the products.
For instance, a study carried out in the United States pointed out that 82% of all direct to consumer advertisements gave the public factual claims coupled up with reasonable arguments as to the use of the advertised products. However, 74% of the advertisements did not mention the risk factors that would lead to the condition in question. In addition, 75% of the advertisements did not mention the condition’s prevalence (Frosch, Grande, Derjung, and Kravitz 27).
In addition, they argue that pharmaceutical companies take advantage of DTCA to advertise expensive drugs that have cheaper options. In these cases, the cheaper and older drugs have no less impact in terms of strength. Hence, opponents of DTCA argue that the ads must inform the public as to whether there are other cheaper options like generic drugs but which work effectively (Mintzes 7).
However, are these arguments strong enough to prompt law makers to ban DTCA? Proponents of direct to consumer advertising argue that this practice offers consumers with first hand information concerning their health and also the product in question. Secondly, they argue that with these adverts, consumers are able to detect early symptoms of important illnesses and hence seek for early medical attention.
This increases the chances of controlling the illnesses as opposed to late diagnosis. One of the best practices in health care provision is giving the patient autonomy in the choice of health care. DTCA hence gives consumers vital information that is a prerequisite for that autonomy (Mintzes 10).
Given the arguments above, it is clear that there are more advantages than disadvantages associated with DTCA. What needs to be straightened is the issue of ethics and accountability by the pharmaceutical companies.
While the US Food and Drug Administration has engaged these companies in lawsuits amounting to billions of dollars, the trend has never been wiped away. The ultimate goal of business which is maximizing profit has consistently remained the driving force at the expense of the welfare of citizens (Frosch, Grande, Derjung, and Kravitz 27).
The remaining question is, what can the regulating bodies do to ensure that ethical consideration takes the forefront of these adverts? And the answer is tightening legislative regulatory approaches. If use of hefty fines does not alter the behavioral decisions of the companies, then other measures should be designed. Therefore, the solution to DTCA is not banning. Instead, proper regulatory measures have to be designed to control the issue of profit vs welfare.
For future research, questions such as aside from hefty fines, what other options are available that would make companies offer truthful information for their products? Secondly, what is the position of profit as the ultimate goal of any business organization vis-a-vis pharmaceutical companies?
In conclusion, DTCA offers a popular platform with numerous advantages. However, pharmaceutical companies remain on the crossroad as to whether to consider profit or public welfare. They opt for the former. This, thus, calls for tighter regulations and legislations so as to promote accountability.
Frosch, Dominick, Grande, David, Tam, Derjung, and Kravitz, Richard. “A Decade of Controversy: Balancing Policy With Evidence in the Regulation of Prescription Drug Advertising” American Journal of Public Health. (2010) 100: 24-32. Print.
Mintzes, Barbara. “Direct to Consumer Advertising of Prescription Drugs in Canada.” Health Council of Canada. (2006): 1-11. Web.
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Ventola, Lee. “Direct-to-consumer Pharmaceutical Advertising.” Pharmacy & Theraputics 36.10 (2011): 669-72. National Institute of Health. web. Oct. 2011. Web.