Last week I was sitting among a group of women who did not know I was a physician. The conversation eventually progressed to a discussion of personal health problems and the women’s interactions with their physicians. One woman exclaimed,” My physician always gets offended whenever I ask if I should take a medication advertised on T.V.” She then continued to describe her physician’s attempt to dissuade her from a particular medication. She perceived his reaction as offense to her request because she thought the physician felt his authority was threatened.
Direct-to-consumer marketing for prescription drug companies has become more common over the past 10 years. You can hardly watch television or thumb through a magazine without encountering multiple advertisements for high cholesterol, osteoporosis, contraception, and so on. Each ad has the same goal—convince you to ask your physician for a specific medication and expect to get the prescription if your physician knows “what’s best”.
For many physicians, direct-to-consumer marketing of medications is a sore topic. Physicians attend an average of 14 years of schooling after high school and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get to the point of being able to care for patients and prescribe appropriate medications. Compare that to the 4 years of schooling by marketing majors who write the advertisements that convince people they need certain medications. Doesn’t it just make sense that your physician is more qualified to determine the appropriate treatment of your condition as opposed to the marketers who get a bonus if you use their medication?
What patients often don’t understand is that for most medications advertised on television there is a generic version that provides equivalent results at a portion of the cost. In many cases, the difference in cost between a generic and branded medication is over one hundred dollars. A patient may not realize this difference in cost if she has prescription coverage with her insurance plan.
So, the next time you ask your physician about a medication advertised on television don’t forget to ask if there is a generic equivalent. It’s the economically responsible thing to do.