medicines cost, healthcare marketing

If you ever watch television, you may have noticed a lot of drug ads. Unless you have a particular interest in a drug, you might not bother to look it up and learn how much it might cost. The answer in most cases is a lot. What is Big Pharma spending on healthcare marketing?

How Much Is Spent on Healthcare Marketing?

A study published this week in JAMA demonstrates a dramatic rise in the amount of money spent on healthcare marketing over the last two decades (Schwartz & Woloshin, JAMA, Jan. 8, 2019). Spending on television drug ads went from $2 billion in 1997 to almost $10 billion in 2016.

Co-author Dr. Steve Woloshin points out that:

“Marketing drives more testing. It drives more treatments…It’s a big part of why health care is so expensive.”

More Healthcare Marketing, Less Regulation:

In addition to drug ads, disease awareness campaigns and advertising for health services and tests also mushroomed. At the same time, however, federal oversight of healthcare marketing has dropped.

In the case of pharmaceuticals, direct-to-consumer advertising increases patient inquiries and boosts prescriptions. Nonetheless, the bulk of drug marketing money is spent on healthcare professionals. Many experts worry about the impact of drug company money on prescribing patterns.

An editorial in the same issue warns:

“trust in physicians and health care institutions may be at stake if medical marketing by practitioners, health care organizations, and manufacturers of health care products continues to increase unchecked.”

In Memoriam:

We are very sad to say that this article is Dr. Schwartz’s last. She passed away at the end of 2018. For decades, she and Dr. Woloshin were partners in research and in life. We interviewed them several times for The People’s Pharmacy.

They were both general internists at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in White River Junction, VT, and Associate Professors of Medicine and Community and Family Medicine at Dartmouth Medical School.  They were also co-directors of the Center for Medicine and the Media at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. Together with Dr. Gilbert Welch, they wrote Know Your Chances: Understanding Health Statistics—How to See Through the Hype in Medical News, Ads, and Public Service Announcements. In addition, they developed the concept of Drug Facts Labels, to give consumers more information about the medicines they take. We offer our condolences to Dr. Woloshin.

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  1. G

    Check the prices of the advertised meds. Their cost is in the thousands per month. The greed and avarice of these “companies” is almost infinite. I know you will not post this comment as good health does not come from a med or bottle, but from a life style that excludes the western diet of animal products, sugar, fat, grease, meds, and the majority of drug pushing doctors and their procedures. Which is worse: The drug pusher on the street whose goal it is to “hook” customers, or the drug companies that tell you that you cannot stop taking their meds, which will usually cost thousands per month. It is all so insidious. I am a healthy 82 year old and I am healthy because I listen to my body rather than the doctors.

  2. Pauline

    There are now even more advertisers on TV I counted 8 during breaks, so the businesses, get more money and and the actors might get also more money.
    The 5 major TV companies, are supposed to deliver full programs, so in emergencies, like tornadoes and other disasters every body, will hear what is going on.

    PBS, decided to pull the plug and is off the air and is not supposed to. So the advertisers will be real mad. PBS has 4 channels and all 4 are off the air
    For a while, NBC, was also off the air for about a year.

    Not everybody can effort, or wants cable..

    There is a new law, by FCC and , like I mentioned the 5 major TV companies, have to deliver FULL service.

    It all has to do with money and the consumers are the victims.

    The add about the sales man, who grabs “VICTIMS of the street and makes them go to the doctor and buy Jardiance pills, was the limit for me

  3. LI

    It can be a very enlightening experience to mute the sound on drug commercials and turn on the closed captioning. All those warnings and side effects suddenly become much more “front and center,” so to speak.

  4. Lilian

    The onslaught of drug advertising is the #1 reason I’ve stopped watching TV programming. The incessant ‘lies’ about new, fake sounding meds, made to look glamorous & in slow motion, no less. Insults to our intelligence!!! Will they ever end??

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