How to handle patient requests for drugs they see in TV ads

Physicians frequently face requests from patients for a drug they have seen advertised on TV.

“Talk to your doctor,” many TV commercials for prescription drugs advise. And patients do.

Doctors are frequently faced with patients asking about or requesting a medication they have seen advertised on TV. Pharmaceutical companies spent $5.2 billion in 2015 on direct-to-consumer advertising for TV and print ads for prescription medications—and that doesn’t count ads patients see online, including those on social media, according to Medical Economics.

Only the U.S. and New Zealand allow such pharmaceutical advertising, and the American Medical Association has voted to support banning drug ads, arguing they help fuel escalating drug prices and inflate demand for new and more expensive drugs even when they may not be appropriate for a particular patient.

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A ban on drug ads would have to be authorized by Congress, however. In the meantime, doctors can expect to have conversations with patients asking about medications based on ads they have seen.

How to respond

Physicians should explain to patients that some of those drugs that are heavily advertised are in fact more expensive, and cheaper generics are equally effective and can save them money, Matthew G. Moore, M.D., a practitioner in Grass Lake, Michigan, told Medical Economics.

If a drug is needed for a patient’s condition and you prescribe a medication that is different from what the patient requested, ask them to give it a try but suggest you can revisit the decision down the road, Moore said.

Doctors should also discourage patients from taking too many medications. More healthcare professionals are “deprescribing” medications after screening patients to see if they can remove ineffective medicines or ones that can result in risky drug combinations.  

Since taking office, President Donald Trump zeroed in on high drug prices and told pharmaceutical companies they must make prescription drugs more affordable. However, decisive action from the administration toward that end remains in the wings for now.

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