The use of so-called ‘disease awareness’ advertising leads to waste, over-diagnosis and inappropriate therapy according to an article published by the Journal of the America Medical Association (JAMA).

Issuing a call for stricter regulation of the promotional approach – which is largely unregulated in the US – author Dr Vinay Prasad from Oregon Health & Science University said: “Because disease awareness has tangible effects on health care behaviour and can lead to unintended consequences including wasteful diagnostic testing, over diagnosis and inappropriate therapy, other attempts may be necessary to regulate disease awareness promotions.”

Dr Prasad suggested legislative efforts be considered to regulate the content of disease awareness and advertising campaigns.

“Ultimately, the status quo appears increasingly untenable: direct-to-consumer advertising is a massive medical intervention with unproven public health benefit, dubious plausibility, and suggestive evidence of harm,” he said.

Direct-to-consumer prescription drug ads are banned in Australia under the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code and, although allowed in the US, are regulated. Yet disease awareness campaigns are largely unregulated in the US and hence increasingly used by drug companies as part of their marketing mix.

They are also common in Australia as a means of encouraging potential patients to ask the doctors about medical conditions.

The JAMA article questioned “the creativity of disease awareness promotions” and noted: “In the United States, drug company advertisements reached the highest annual spending of all time of $5.6 billion in 2016.”

Product advertising is not the only area in the US where pharmaceuticals are coming under fire. Also under question is drug sales rep activity after research found that when their access to doctors was limited, prescriptions shifted from branded drugs to generics.

Last week, the California state Senate passed a bill restricting pharmacos from paying for flights, speaking fees and making consulting payments to doctors.

Link to JAMA article