DTC Deeds not Words

  • by: |
  • 08/10/2005

When Pfizer Vice Chairman Karen Katen appeared alongside Billy Tauzin at PhRMA’s recent announcement of the trade organizations DTC “Guiding Principles,” there was a lot of doubt as to whether her comments were anything more than supportive rhetoric. Well, today Pfizer proved they are willing, ready and able to really make a difference to DTC advertising and, more importantly, to truly advancing the public health.

At present risk information in DTC ads is neither designed nor delivered to be user-friendly. At present it is designed to be “in compliance” — and to truly advance the public health these things cannot be mutually exclusive. One of the things that Pfizer announced today is that they will undertake research (with input from the FDA and third parties) to help improve risk communication in DTC TV advertising, and will adjust risk communications accordingly. And, as far as the so-called “brief summary” is concerned, Pfizer has submitted to the FDA for review a new consumer-friendly and consumer-tested print brief summary. I hope they share their concepts more broadly, because if it works, there are broader public health communications lessons to be learned. And it’s about time because, as folks within FDA are fond of saying, the current brief summary is like the Holy Roman Empire. It is neither brief nor a summary. And it most certainly is not a useful public health tool. If Pfizer can help change this, more power to them — and to all of us.

And when it comes to disease awareness, the world’s biggest pharmaceutical company is stepping up to the plate and putting their money where their mouth is. In 2006, Pfizer will invest on par with what it spends on a branded advertising to create more disease awareness with advertisements that do not mention a product; address crucial public health issues such as health literacy, compliance and improving the patient/physician relationship through additional non-product advertising; and continue a dedicated advertising campaign to promote their “Pfizer Helpful Answers” program that helps people who need help affording the medications they need.

These announcements are more than programs inoculating Pfizer against the anti-DTC desperados. It’s about saving lives and saving our health care system big bucks. Improving disease awareness, treating people appropriately and promoting compliance with medical treatments helps eliminate the costs associated with under-diagnosis, under-treatment and untreated conditions, which often lead to more surgeries and expensive hospital care. Understandable and accessible information, in the form of direct-to-consumer advertising (disease awareness as well as branded messages) also helps with other costly factors, such as low health literacy (which costs our health care system approximately $58 billion annually) and noncompliance (estimated at more than $100 billion a year in increased emergency room visits, hospital and nursing home admissions, and lost productivity).

Kudos Karen.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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