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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 19939

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: news

Hui L, Hayman M
S4 advertising no help
Australian Medicine 1999 Sep 66

Full text:

We are writing in response to a news article (AM, 5 July) about a Therapeutic Goods Advertising Council task force review of direct-to-consumer advertising of S4 items. The article noted that there are no medical representatives on the task force and refers to a comment from the RACGP representative on the Council, Dr Andrea Mant, that, while she does ‘not like direct-to-consumer advertising it was important to be prepared for it’.

Why is it important to be prepared for something that has never existed and need not ever exist? Has the public suddenly developed a need to bypass independent and qualified medical advice when commencing drug therapy? Or is it simply, and more probably, the case that the pharmaceutical manufacturers want direct advertising to assist in maximising their market share and penetration?

Doctors should fight any process that undermines their role of providing independent expert advice to their patients. This role includes explaining all the drug options available to a patient (regardless of manufacturer) and making recommendations based on the patient’s best interest. Brand awareness in patients will only interfere in the therapeutic relationship by creating a distorting influence on medication choice. While advertising may make patients more aware of drug brands, the quality of the advertising information will inevitably be so simplistic and unbalanced that it will not be helpful in patient education.

Although we would all like to believe otherwise, doctors themselves are not immune to the marketing strategies of pharmaceutical companies. Patients are even less well equipped to scrutinise the validity of their advertising claims. We should not allow the pharmaceutical companies to extend their advertising strategies any further.


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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