Direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medicines on the internet: An Australian consumer perspective

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Pharmacy Practice and Research, 2011, 41 (3), pp. 196 - 202
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Background: In Australia there are strict regulations in place to protect the consumer from direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of prescription medicines. However, the degree of infallibility of these restrictions is unclear. Aim: To investigate the DTCA encountered by Australian consumers when searching the Internet for common health- or medicine-related questions. Method: 2 health topics, weight loss and impotence, were chosen and explored from 2 perspectives - the health condition and a commonly used medicine (brand name). Key words were chosen to simulate the language and search style of a consumer. The first 10 hits from each search were evaluated using the validated DISCERN scale, and a descriptive report of each web site was conducted with a specific focus on evidence for DTCA. Results: Of the 70 web sites visited, 10 sites originating from the USA or New Zealand exhibited DTCA. The scale and intensity of DTCA varied between search topics and strategies and ranged in appearance from simple, pictorial advertising to subtle forms of persuasive language. DTCA of some pharmaceuticals was often hidden within disease awareness campaigns, ePharmacy web pages and online communities. Conclusion: Australian consumers are exposed to DTCA of prescription medicines on the Internet. Clearly, DTCA restrictions in Australia are not infallible. Australian policy makers in the interests of public health must take measures to address the gaps.
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