If you ever watch television, you may have noticed a lot of drug ads. Unless you have a particular interest in a drug, you might not bother to look it up and learn how much it might cost. The answer in most cases is a lot. What is Big Pharma spending on healthcare marketing?

How Much Is Spent on Healthcare Marketing?

A study published this week in JAMA demonstrates a dramatic rise in the amount of money spent on healthcare marketing over the last two decades (Schwartz & Woloshin, JAMA, Jan. 8, 2019). Spending on television drug ads went from $2 billion in 1997 to almost $10 billion in 2016.

Co-author Dr. Steve Woloshin points out that:

“Marketing drives more testing. It drives more treatments…It’s a big part of why health care is so expensive.”

More Healthcare Marketing, Less Regulation:

In addition to drug ads, disease awareness campaigns and advertising for health services and tests also mushroomed. At the same time, however, federal oversight of healthcare marketing has dropped.

In the case of pharmaceuticals, direct-to-consumer advertising increases patient inquiries and boosts prescriptions. Nonetheless, the bulk of drug marketing money is spent on healthcare professionals. Many experts worry about the impact of drug company money on prescribing patterns.

An editorial in the same issue warns:

“trust in physicians and health care institutions may be at stake if medical marketing by practitioners, health care organizations, and manufacturers of health care products continues to increase unchecked.”

In Memoriam:

We are very sad to say that this article is Dr. Schwartz’s last. She passed away at the end of 2018. For decades, she and Dr. Woloshin were partners in research and in life. We interviewed them several times for The People’s Pharmacy.

They were both general internists at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in White River Junction, VT, and Associate Professors of Medicine and Community and Family Medicine at Dartmouth Medical School.  They were also co-directors of the Center for Medicine and the Media at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. Together with Dr. Gilbert Welch, they wrote Know Your Chances: Understanding Health Statistics—How to See Through the Hype in Medical News, Ads, and Public Service Announcements. In addition, they developed the concept of Drug Facts Labels, to give consumers more information about the medicines they take. We offer our condolences to Dr. Woloshin.

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