Proposed Study to Look at Effect of Advertising, Social Media on Prescribing Habits

Posted 10 October 2012 | By Alexander Gaffney, RAC 

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is preparing to conduct a survey of prescribing healthcare professionals regarding their assessment of promotional advertising generated by the pharmaceutical industry, including advertising through social media channels, according to a 10 October posting in the Federal Register.

"FDA has an interest in determining the attitudes, perceptions, and opinions of healthcare professionals with prescribing authority regarding such promotion," the agency explained in the posting. Though direct-to-consumer advertising has also been the subject of proposed studies by FDA in the past, regulators said they are just as interested in its impact on healthcare practitioners given that, "The bulk of industry resources are spent in professional promotion."

Despite the prior research, "There are critical reasons to return to the field to gather more evidence on the influence of DTC in the examination room and on the relationships between healthcare professionals and patients," FDA explained.

FDA said its research will be geared toward assessing two factors: prescriber's opinions of DTC advertising and promotion and factors that relate to the promotion of prescription drugs.

To the latter point, FDA said it is aware that most prescribers encounter patients who have been exposed to DTC advertising, which can affect prescribing habits. While prescribers have traditionally been physicians, this role is increasingly being assumed by nurse practitioners, who have in turn become the focus of advertising efforts by the pharmaceutical industry. Previous studies did not assess their role in the advertising and prescribing ecosystem, and FDA said its new study wants to assess their role much more closely.

The study also aims to better represent members of all different ages, sexes and races. FDA acknowledged its earlier study, conducted in 2002, was not weighted to adequately assess these sub-populations. "The current survey will include weighted responses from respondents that will reflect national demographic patterns," it explained.

New online marketing methods will also receive attention in FDA's proposed survey, including social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, as well as regular websites. "FDA will benefit by knowing more about healthcare professionals' awareness of new and emerging drug promotion sites and practices," it explained.

FDA's proposed survey will include a 2,000-person sample of 500 general practitioners, 500 specialists, 500 nurse practitioners and 500 physician assistants.

The survey, first tentatively announced in January 2012, received 55 responses-mostly suggestions-from the public and industry. FDA said it incorporated many of the suggestions, most of which focused on either adding or subtracting certain questions to better assess the thoughts and characteristics of respondents.

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