InCrowd Survey: US Doctors Say DTC Ads Shape More Informed Patient, But Voice Concerns over 3X More Questions

May 25, 2017

Proponents Outnumber Detractors 2 to 1, with 65% Wanting to Keep DTC Ads,  Yet Nearly 87% Observed Patient Confusion with the Ads

BOSTON, MA, January 26, 2017—As the US pharmaceutical industry strives to balance the role of direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising between patient awareness and overreach, new data from those best equipped to judge DTC ads’ impact—US physicians—show that physicians credit DTC ads in delivering a more inquisitive patient. Concern exist, however regarding the way in which ads are shaping patient understanding. Results are from a new microsurvey performed by InCrowd, a provider of real-time market intelligence to the life sciences and healthcare firms, and reveal perhaps surprising provider perceptions on the efficacy of DTC ads.

Data show that the estimated $5.4 billion DTC-ad spend in the US helps to enable a more aware and engaged patient, sparking important dialogues with healthcare providers. Physicians in InCrowd’s microsurvey reported receiving three times the number of questions as a result of DTC ads than five years ago—from an average of one question a week to three a week.

Yet patient questions are often the result of a lack of understanding, which troubles respondents. When asked if their patients generally understand the information provided by the pharmaceutical companies in advertisements, 65% said no. In a separate question, when asked how many of their patients could understand or interpret this information in the DTC ads, nearly 87% of physicians observed some level of confusion with the ads. 43% said that “some of my patients” can understand or interpret them, 41% said that “few” patients understand the ads, and 3% said that “none of my patients” can understand the ads. Only 13% of physicians said “most of my patients can interpret/understand” these ads.

“It’s important to build patient awareness of new treatments, and our physician response suggests US physicians think the pharma industry is doing well on that aim with DTC ads – and that these doctors are considering how best to integrate them into their practice,” said Diane Hayes, president and co-founder of InCrowd. “Yet as Congress targets the need to lower prescription drug prices, the pharma industry needs to listen carefully to physician insights on better structuring their DTC-ad programs for information clarity, and increased benefit to both patient and physician.”

When asked about changes they would like to see, only 35% of physician respondents overtly suggested banning the ads. The other 65% focused on improvements to the ads’ content and messaging.

InCrowd’s data suggests several opportunities for improvement:

  • 31% of respondents recommended additional patient education
  • 17% suggested simplifying the message
  • Including more explanation of side effects was noted by 7%
  • Those who asked for no changes represented 7%
  • 3% wanted cost information included

Other findings show that:

  • 49% percent said the ads generally impair or confuse their patients’ understanding of their condition, the treatment, and risks that may occur
  • Those who thought the ads had no effect on their patients represented 35%
  • 16% said the ads led to an improved understanding by patients of their condition, treatment options, and risks.

InCrowd conducted this microsurvey over several months, beginning on June 15, 2016, which included 319 US physician respondents from a variety of specialties. Respondents possess an average of 18 years in practice, are an average age of 48 years old, and included 31% women and 67% men.


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