Risk info in pharma ads ignored by 41% of consumers

More than four in 10 (41%) US consumers pay little or no attention to risk information presented by pharmaceutical companies in their TV commercials, and only half (50%) pay attention to such disclosures in print ads, according to a study by ORC Guideline. The study may also shed some light on whether consumers pay attention to dietary supplement risk information.

The research, which is the latest effort in the company's "Under the Skin" research series, found that this lack of attention is most prevalent among those who are ages 55+.

ORC Guideline suggests that this failure to notice risk information may be caused by information overload, among other things.

The study findings about TV and print-based ads may have implications for forthcoming guidelines from the FDA to help pharmaceutical companies navigate the increasingly complex waters of online advertising.

"As consumers utilize a wide variety of sources to learn about prescription medications, it may not be optimal for the FDA to require that pharmaceutical companies include the same details in each of the channels they use to communicate information about their prescription drug products," said Morris S. Whitcup, Ph.D., chief research officer at ORC Guideline. "When we asked consumers specifically about their preferences for obtaining prescription drug risk information online, we learned that many would appreciate a truly condensed version of such disclosures, accompanied by links to obtain more detailed information."

The study found that the top ways consumers prefer to see prescription-drug risk disclosures presented online are:

  • Direct links to an independent website such as WebMD (32%).
  • Having a condensed version of risk disclosures available one click away (27%).
  • A direct link to a pharmaceutical company that provides the information (26%).
  • A direct link to a government website that provides the information (25%).

Consumers Unclear About Correct Prescription Drug Usage
In addition to the tendency to ignore prescription-drug warning info in ads, another study conducted earlier this year (pdf) as part of the same ORC Guideline research series found a troublesome gap in US consumers' perceptions about how to correctly take their prescription medications and the side effects associated with them.

Though the vast majority of study respondents who recently picked up a prescription drug say they understand how to take their medication (90%), only 60% are aware of the potential interactions with other prescribed medication, and only 58% are aware of interactions with over-the-counter (OTC) medications they're taking.

That study also revealed that 20% of respondents reported stopping taking a medication altogether because they felt they did not have enough information about it, and indicated that roughly half (55%) of respondents considered pharmacists and doctors to be a sufficient source for information about their prescriptions, while another 35% did not feel that the printed information supplied by the pharmacy about their prescription was important.

Among those who did read drug information supplied by their pharmacy ordrug manufacturer, those that found it hardest to understand fell in the 45-54 age bracket (23%), followed closely by the 55-64 age bracket (22%).

"These findings raise important questions about how Americans are getting their drug information and how well they understand it," said Christine W. Dalzell, Ph.d, senior managing director at ORC Guideline. "Experts cite that approximately 500,000 adverse events occur each year in this country
because people misread the instructions on prescription drug labels. Such 'comprehension confusion' obviously has the potential to put consumers at great risk," she said.

Last month, Google proposed a special new format for online pharmaceutical ads that may address the US Food & Drug Administration's risk-disclosure and regulatory concerns about the industry's online marketing, according to MarketingVOX. In its proposal, Google suggested including extra links within drug ads that make side-efffect information one click away.

About the research: The survey about risk information in pharma ads was conducted online October 29-30, 2009 by ORC among a sample of 1,045 adults (503 men and 542 women) ages 18+. The survey about prescription drug usage was conducted by August 27-30, 2009 by ORC by telephone among national probability sample of 1,007 adults (501 men and 506 women) ages 18+. ORC Guideline's 'Under the Skin' series of studies focuses on American's perceptions of the healthcare system, health insurance coverage, drug choices and wellness.

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