By Dave B.
I know you’ve seen them. Those ridiculous commercials for prescription medicines that have side-effects worse than the ailment that they’re supposed to treat. Ignoring the fact that they’re universally terrible, the fact that they actually exist is insane.
Pharmaceutical companies already directly solicit medical professionals and medical institutions, so what’s the purpose of TV advertising directly to consumers? To encourage patients and potential patients to pressure their doctors into giving them a specific medicine for a condition. Look, I’m totally for patients being informed by doctors about their treatment options. But in NO WAY is a layperson qualified to suggest a course of treatment to a medical professional, especially when it comes to prescription medicines.
The thing that blows my mind is that these commercials are extremely effective. From 2012 to 2016, spending on commercials for prescription drugs increased 62%. From 2016 to 2017, spending on these ads increased by more than $330 million, from $3.11 billion to $3.45 billion. The people who run these companies aren’t stupid. These types of spending increases are indicative of the massive success of their strategy to convince patients to pressure doctors into prescribing certain medicines.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have mixed feelings about medical professionals. Nurses, paramedics, med techs and others have generally been great to me. Doctors…not so much. But for me, a person with zero years of training in treating ailments, to say to a doctor “I want you to prescribe me a medicine that I saw on a television commercial”, is complete insanity. It would be insane for me to say and it would be insane if the doctor capitulated to my demand. Should we have random people be telling architects and engineers how to safely construct skyscrapers? If your answer to that question is yes, you should seek help.
What to do? Well, that depends who you ask. The easy answer for those who aren’t strong believers in individual agency would be to have the government ban such ads. I don’t like that solution. It doesn’t really get to the heart of the problem in my opinion. The real problem is that people are being totally irrational and doctors aren’t incentivized to stand up to their patients. As long as this type of advertisment remains effective, companies will find a way around any rules to use it and these commercials will continue to exist.
Instead, I suggest two grassroots movements. In the first, doctors will vow that, while noting their patient’s desires, they won’t make medical decisions based primarily upon the wishes of someone who isn’t an expert. In the second, patients and potential patients will vow to do their best to not be completely irrational and won’t try to force doctors to make decisions based on commercials. In fact, I’m taking that vow right now. You can do it, too!