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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 1689

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: Journal Article

Kravitz RL, Epstein RM, Feldman MD, Franz CE, Azari R, Wilkes MS, Hinton L, Franks P.
Influence of patients' requests for direct-to-consumer advertised antidepressants: a randomized controlled trial.
JAMA 2005 Apr 27; 293:(16):1995-2002


CONTEXT: Direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription drugs in the United States is both ubiquitous and controversial. Critics charge that it leads to overprescribing, while proponents counter that it helps avert underuse of effective treatments, especially for conditions that are poorly recognized or stigmatized.
OBJECTIVE: To ascertain the effects of patients’ DTC-related requests on physicians’ initial treatment decisions in patients with depressive symptoms.
DESIGN: Randomized trial using standardized patients (SPs). Six SP roles were created by crossing 2 conditions (major depression or adjustment disorder with depressed mood) with 3 request types (brand-specific, general, or none). SETTING: Offices of primary care physicians in Sacramento, Calif; San Francisco, Calif; and Rochester, NY, between May 2003 and May 2004. PARTICIPANTS: One hundred fifty-two family physicians and general internists recruited from solo and group practices and health maintenance organizations; cooperation rates ranged from 53% to 61%.
INTERVENTIONS: The SPs were randomly assigned to make 298 unannounced visits, with assignments constrained so physicians saw 1 SP with major depression and 1 with adjustment disorder. The SPs made a brand-specific drug request, a general drug request, or no request (control condition) in approximately one third of visits.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Data on prescribing, mental health referral, and primary care follow-up obtained from SP written reports, visit audiorecordings, chart review, and analysis of written prescriptions and drug samples. The effects of request type on prescribing were evaluated using contingency tables and confirmed in generalized linear mixed models that accounted for clustering and adjusted for site, physician, and visit characteristics.
RESULTS: Standardized patient role fidelity was excellent, and the suspicion rate that physicians had seen an SP was 13%. In major depression, rates of antidepressant prescribing were 53%, 76%, and 31% for SPs making brand-specific, general, and no requests, respectively (P<.001). In adjustment disorder, antidepressant prescribing rates were 55%, 39%, and 10%, respectively (P<.001). The results were confirmed in multivariate models. Minimally acceptable initial care (any combination of an antidepressant, mental health referral, or follow-up within 2 weeks) was offered to 98% of SPs in the major depression role making a general request, 90% of those making a brand-specific request, and 56% of those making no request (P<.001).
CONCLUSIONS: Patients’ requests have a profound effect on physician prescribing in major depression and adjustment disorder. Direct-to-consumer advertising may have competing effects on quality, potentially both averting underuse and promoting overuse.

Publication Types: Clinical Trial Randomized Controlled Trial MeSH Terms: Adjustment Disorders/drug therapy Advertising* Antidepressive Agents/therapeutic use* Depressive Disorder, Major/drug therapy Drug Industry Family Practice Humans Internal Medicine Mass Media Patient Participation Patient Satisfaction* Physician's Practice Patterns* Prescriptions, Drug* Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S. United States Substances: Antidepressive Agents


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Far too large a section of the treatment of disease is to-day controlled by the big manufacturing pharmacists, who have enslaved us in a plausible pseudo-science...
The blind faith which some men have in medicines illustrates too often the greatest of all human capacities - the capacity for self deception...
Some one will say, Is this all your science has to tell us? Is this the outcome of decades of good clinical work, of patient study of the disease, of anxious trial in such good faith of so many drugs? Give us back the childlike trust of the fathers in antimony and in the lancet rather than this cold nihilism. Not at all! Let us accept the truth, however unpleasant it may be, and with the death rate staring us in the face, let us not be deceived with vain fancies...
we need a stern, iconoclastic spirit which leads, not to nihilism, but to an active skepticism - not the passive skepticism, born of despair, but the active skepticism born of a knowledge that recognizes its limitations and knows full well that only in this attitude of mind can true progress be made.
- William Osler 1909