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Healthy Skepticism AdWatch

AdWatch illuminates the logical, psychological and pharmacological techniques used in drug advertisements.

 

February 2004, Australia

Augmentin (amoxicillin with potassium clavulanate) from GlaxoSmithKline

"Take a closer look"

 

Please note this AdWatch issue is no longer active so you can not submit answers to the questions below.

Australia February 2004

"Take a closer look": Augmentin (amoxicillin with potassium clavulanate) from GlaxoSmithKline 

Antibiotic use in Australia is slowly decreasing but is still too high. 

For example, antibiotics are still prescribed for around 75% of acute bronchitis visits.[1] This is despite strong evidence that the benefits do not exceed the adverse effects [2] except perhaps in subgroups such as people over age 55 with frequent daytime cough. [3]  

Overuse of antibiotics is accelerating the evolution of resistance that will soon lead to many avoidable deaths. [4]

One of the main uses of advertisements is to maintain high prescribing rates for older drugs [5] such as Augmentin.  

The following Augmentin advertisement was based on sophisticated research.  We suspect that every element of the advertisement was carefully chosen.  Let’s take a closer look at GlaxoSmithKline’s techniques for overcoming resistance to prescribing Augmentin.

 

Source: Australian Doctor  22, August 2003

What messages is the advertisement sending? 

Headline in the picture

“For Sue’s sake…”

Our reading: 
This appeals to our desire to care for individuals. 

Our opinion: 
Caring is a good motivation but caring too much can lead to over treatment.  Providing special care for an individual by breaking the guidelines for good treatment can boost a doctor’s self esteem.  However this may harm the patient and/or the community.

 

“…take a closer look at resistance…”

Reinforcing Images: 
Magnifying glass, Woman taking a close look at slides

Our reading: 
This promotes focus on resistance as the main or only criteria for choosing an antibiotic.

Our opinion: 
Resistance is just one factor to take into account when considering drug choices.  Resistance in the petrie dish does not always predict benefits for patients.  We also need to consider the rate at which the infection resolves naturally (without antibiotics), the rate and type of adverse reactions and the value of the antibiotic in severe/life threatening infections where there are few antibiotic alternatives.  Cost is sometimes a consideration.  Resistance can't be ignored but is not the main criterion.

 

“…Augmentin delivers first time 1,2,3

References: 
One conference poster and two reviews of pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics.

Our reading: 
The claim is ambiguous.

Reasonable readings include:

  • an appeal to our desire for confidence and certainty.
  • a claim that single courses of Augmentin have a 100% “cure rate”.
  • a recommendation that Augmentin should be used first line.

Our opinion:
The advertising copy does not specify which infections it refers to so it could refer to all infections including acute bronchitis.  This appeals to our desire for the simplicity of a one size fits all antibiotic.   

The implication that Augmentin delivers a 100% cure rate appeals to our desire to avoid failure and ensure that patients don’t have to pay for a second antibiotic. 

The most common infections in young women include colds and acute bronchitis for which antibiotics are not needed and urinary tract infections for which Augmentin is not recommended as the first choice.  The references cited in the advertisement do not support any of our readings of the claim.

We asked GlaxoSmithKline (Australia):

  1. For which indications do you recommend Augmentin as first choice?

  2. What are the cure rates with Augmentin for those indications?

  3. What meaning do you intend GPs to take from the claim that “Augmentin delivers first time”?

  4. How do the references cited in the advertisement support that meaning?

  5. Do you have any suggestions for improving our draft AdWatch on Augmentin?

  6. Would you please confirm or deny that the choice of an attractive young female of high status for the Augmentin advertisement was based on evidence that such people are able to influence doctors?

  7. If you confirm, would you please share that evidence with us?

  8.  If you don't confirm, would you please tell us why an attractive young female of high status was chosen for the Augmentin advertisement?

The response from GlaxoSmithKline (Australia) was:

“GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) promotes Augmentin Duo Forte within the TGA approved indications in line with the requirements of the Medicines Australia Code of Conduct.” 

We asked GSK to answer our questions individually but they just repeated that answer.  See Correspondence with GSK below.

 

The fine print

The fine print lists the following indications “community acquired pneumonia and acute exacerbations of chronic bronchitis, upper respiratory tract infections, such as sinusitis, otitis media and recurrent tonsillitis”

Our opinion: 
Those indications were approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration but are not up to date.

According to Therapeutic Guidelines Antibiotic (October 2003) [6] the current first line indications for Augmentin are:

  • Mild to moderate hospital-acquired pneumonia with no specific risk factors.
  • Bites and clenched fist injury with no established infection but a high risk of infection
  • Middle ear infection after amoxicillin has been tried and failed.

 Augmentin is not recommended first choice but is an option for the following indications. 

Current second choice indications for Augmentin[7]

First choice antibiotic

acute cystitis in non-pregnant women

trimethoprim 300 mg daily for 3 days

acute cystitis in non-pregnant women

cephalexin 500 mg 12-hourly for 10 days

acute cystitis in children

cephalexin 12.5 mg/kg up to 500 mg 12-hourly for 5 days

acute cystis in men

trimethoprim 300 mg daily for 14 days

epididymo-orchitis

trimethoprim 300 mg daily for 14 days

 

PBS Information  
(PBS = Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the Australian system of subsidies for drugs. Augmentin is subsidised by the PBS if used for "Infections where resistance to amoxycillin is suspected or proven.")

“Augmentin should be used in infections where resistance to amoxicillin is suspected or proven.”

Our reading: 
The PBS indication is ambiguous but GSK have misquoted the PBS by adding the clause "should be used" and thus make it more promotional.
Reasonable readings include: “Augmentin should always be used first line because amoxicillin resistance is always a possibility” and this is the recommendation of the PBS.

Our opinion: 
Augmentin is not good enough for first line use because:
Augmentin has a higher rate of adverse effects including diarrhoea and liver damage than amoxicillin.
Augmentin’s broad spectrum increases the risk of evolving resistance.

 

Main headline

“Sue wants…”

Our reading: 
This appeals to our desires to avoid conflict and to please our patients. It also reinforces the perception that patients want antibiotics.

Our opinion: 
Patient requests are a major factor in inappropriate antibiotic prescribing for acute bronchitis.[8],[9]  One study suggests that Australian general practitioners’ perceptions of patients’ expectations are a major influence on prescribing. [10]

Percentage of patients who received a prescription.

 

Patient does not expect a prescription

Patient does expect a prescription

 

Doctors' perceptions is that the patient does not expect a prescription

8.8%

48%

Doctors' perceptions is that the patient does expect a prescription

80%

77%

 

“…to recover in time to see her project launched.” 

Reinforcing Images: 
Attractive young woman in upmarket surroundings with stereotype clues denoting intelligence: brunette with glasses.

Our reading:  
Sue represents attractive intelligent high status young professionals.

Our opinion: 
Many young Australian adults believe that antibiotics are appropriate for coughs, colds and ’flu-like symptoms and will enable them to return to work more quickly. [8],[11]

Advertising is often based on sophisticated research about decision making that is not in the public domain.  There is published evidence that that people who are likeable, physically attractive, and /or similar to us can be even more effective at influencing us than we already realise.[12]  Consequently this advertisement may be based on specific evidence that the attractive intelligent high status people that “Sue” represents are particularly difficult for some doctors to say no to. 

 

AdWatch's current recommendation for Australia

Antibiotic

Price per tablet

Price per day

trimethoprim 300mg 1 daily

$1.05

$1.05

cephalexin 500mg 2 daily

56 cents

$1.12

amoxicillin 500 mg 3 daily

55 cents

$1.65

Augmentin 875mg/125mg 2 daily

$1.70

$3.40

The AdWatch team recommends following the advice of Therapeutic Guidelines.  For example:

Acute bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is defined as acute viral or bacterial infection of the larger airways in otherwise healthy young adults and children who do not have a history of recurrent disease.

In an immunocompetent adult or child, acute bronchitis is most often viral and does not require antibiotic therapy. Although bacterial colonisation and purulent sputum are common complications, randomised controlled trials show that antibiotic therapy provides no overall benefit to the patient and may cause harm. Pertussis should be considered in patients with persistent paroxysmal cough. Pneumonia should be considered in patients with more severe illness.

 

 

Feedback

(Feedback will be be used as a basis for dialogue with GSK and regulatory agencies including the Medicines Australia Code system. We will also take feedback seriously for improving future editions of AdWatch because we believe that a complaint is a gift for quality improvement.) 

If none of the options below are apply then please let us know with one of the comment boxes.

My evaluation of AdWatch's appraisal of the Augmentin advertisement is:

No opinion
More helpful than misleading
Neutral
More misleading than helpful

My evaluation of AdWatch's current recommendations for use of Augmentin in Australia is:

No opinion
More helpful than misleading
Neutral
More misleading than helpful

 My comments about this AdWatch issue are:

My evaluation of GSK's Augmentin advertisement (regardless of your evaluation of AdWatch's appraisal) is:

No opinion
More helpful than misleading
Neutral
More misleading than helpful

My comments about the Augmentin advertisement and/or related issues are:

Before reading this AdWatch issue
I Augmentin

I now plan to Augmentin .

I am a

I live in

Any other comments:

I give permission for my feedback above to be analysed for AdWatch feedback issues (eg Feedback about AdWatch on Nexium), research publications and for dialogue with GSK and regulatory agencies. (If you don't give permission then your feedback will be read by the AdWatch team but not included in any analysis or dialogue.)

Providing email or name is optional but very helpful

We will not include your email or name in analysis or dialogue unless you give specific permission below. We won't pass your email or name to anyone else and will remove them from our records at any time on request to: adwatch at healthyskepticism.org 

Please add my email address, as follows, to the list to be notified about new editions of AdWatch once a month:
email:  
Please check that your email address is correct and notify adwatch at healthyskepticism.org if your email address changes or if you don't hear from us within two months.

If you would like to be notified of other  updates to the Healthy Skepticism website then please become a Free or Paid Healthy Skepticism Subscriber.

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My name is: 

Please let us know if you have any questions:

 

 

AdWatch is produced by Healthy Skepticism:  www.healthyskepticism.org

Appendix: Correspondence with GSK

15 November 2003

Glaxo

Your current Australian advertisement for Augmentin was selected at random for AdWatch.

For example see:  
http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/327/7420/936

We would like to give you the opportunity to comment before we publish AdWatch on Augmentin.

We have some questions:

1. For which indications do you recommend Augmentin as first choice?

2. What are the cure rates with Augmentin for those indications?

3. What meaning do you intend GPs to take from the claim that “Augmentin delivers first time”?

4. How do the references cited in the advertisement support that meaning?

5. Do you have any suggestions for improving our draft AdWatch on Augmentin?

Obviously you can't answer question 5 until we send you the current draft (as a MS Word doc). Unfortunately you don't provide an email address so I can't send it to you today.  If you provide an email address then I will send it to you when I return from interstate on Wednesday 19 November.  

regards,  

Dr Peter R Mansfield  

 

20 November 2003

Dear Dr Mansfield

We received your request via our website for comment on your publication of Adwatch.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) promotes Augmentin Duo Forte within the TGA approved indications in line with the requirements of the Medicines Australia Code of Conduct.

sincerely

Nikki Capp
Corporate Affairs Manager
GlaxoSmithKline Australia

 

20 November 2003

Dear Ms Capp,

Whilst I thank you providing such a concise response, I believe all involved may benefit if you provide separate answers for each of our questions:

  1. For which indications do you recommend Augmentin as first choice?

  2. What are the cure rates with Augmentin for those indications?

  3. What meaning do you intend GPs to take from the claim that “Augmentin delivers first time”?

  4. How do the references cited in the advertisement support that meaning?

  5. Do you have any suggestions for improving our draft AdWatch on Augmentin?

Thank you in anticipation.

regards,

Dr Peter R Mansfield
 

21 November 2003

Ms Capp,  

I have some extra questions we should have included earlier.

6. Would you please confirm or deny that the choice of an attractive young female of high status for the Augmentin advertisement was based on evidence that such people are able to influence doctors?  

7. If you confirm, would you please share that evidence with us?

8. If you don't confirm, would you please tell us why an attractive young female of high status was chosen for the Augmentin advertisement?

Look forward to receiving your answers.

regards,

Dr Peter R Mansfield
 

25 November 2003

Dear Dr Mansfield

Thank you for the opportunity for further comment. For all involved: GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) promotes Augmentin Duo Forte within the TGA approved indications in line with the requirements of the Medicines Australia Code of Conduct.

sincerely

Nikki Capp
Corporate Affairs Manager
GlaxoSmithKline Australia

 

25 November 2003

Ms Capp,

If at anytime your company wishes to commence dialogue with us we will be happy to cooperate. We are very keen to receive feedback to help us improve our performance.  The following quotes may help you to understand our thinking regarding feedback. I hope you find them helpful.

"companies will have to become more flexible, and respond more quickly and efficiently following customer feedback"
Who are the pharmaceutical industry's customers? Scrip 2003 July 1;2865:14

"When customers feel dissatisfied with products and services, they have two options: they can say something or they can walk away. If they walk away, they give organizations virtually no opportunity to fix their dissatisfaction. Complaining customers are still talking with us, giving us an opportunity to return them to a state of satisfaction so they will be more likely to buy from us again. So as much as we might not like to receive negative feedback, customers who complain are giving us a gift.

If we shift our perspective in this way to see complaints as gifts, we can more readily use the information the complaints generate to grow our own businesses. Customer complaints are one of the most available and yet underutilized sources of consumer and market information; as such, they can become the foundation for a company's quality and service recovery programs. This is no small gift!

In order to better understand complaining customers, Part 1 of this book examines the behavior and desires of dissatisfied customers. With understanding comes acceptance. We must welcome these complaining customers and make them want to come to us with their feedback."
Barlow J, Møller C. A complaint is a gift. Using customer feedback as a strategic tool. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. San Francisco 1996

regards,

Dr Peter R Mansfield

 

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Indexes:
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