Intended for healthcare professionals


Direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 15 May 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:1301

An idea whose time should not come

  1. Jerome R Hoffman (, Professor of medicine.,
  2. Michael Wilkes, Associate professor of medicine, Division of Internal Medicine.
  1. UCLA Emergency Medicine Center, Los Angeles, CA 90024

Direct to consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription drugs is expanding dramatically in the United States, and there is some sentiment in favour of allowing this practice to come to the United Kingdom.1 Such advertising is a powerful tool, designed to create a demand, in order to maximise profits. Extending the scope of already ubiquitous promotions about “post-nasal drip,” “unsightly rashes,” or “cures” for baldness has little to do with educating patients or relieving suffering. It will, however, inevitably drain healthcare dollars, dramatically increase unnecessary prescribing, and strain patient-doctor relationships.

Typical direct to consumer advertising for prescription drugs in the US consists of glossy promotional materials suggesting that the advertised product represents a major medical advance, accompanied (because of Federal Drug Administration regulations, and over the objections of the pharmaceutical industry) by tiny print “information” presented in medical jargon which virtually no consumers can understand. 1 2 These advertisements—whose “rules for doing DTC right” include “always focus on benefits, not problems”3 …

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