The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it plans to study how well consumers and healthcare professionals are able to identify deceptive or misleading information in drug advertisements.
While FDA says there have been a number of studies in the past looking into the occurrence and influence of deceptive advertising, there hasn't been research into how well consumers and healthcare professionals are able to identify deceptive drug promotion.
"The ability to identify such promotion has important public health implications," FDA says.
On one hand, misled consumers might ask their doctors to prescribe drugs they might not need, and on the other, physicians that fail to recognize the deceptive information might end up prescribing them.
According to FDA, how well consumers and healthcare professionals are able to identify deceptive information plays a role in the agency's enforcement efforts.
"Reports of deceptive promotion are useful to FDA because they allow investigators to focus their efforts in an era where the amount of promotion far exceeds the resources available to monitor everything," FDA says.
FDA says it plans to conduct two studies, each designed to answer different questions, each of which will include patients and physician populations.
To conduct the studies, FDA says it plans to contract with a firm to develop "mock" websites that will appear similar to actual prescription drug websites. According to the agency, the sites shown to patients and physicians will be mostly identical, with pages geared towards physicians including more statistical information and medical terminology.
The first study will attempt to determine the proportion of consumers and healthcare professionals that can correctly identify deceptive information and the degree to which deceptive information affects their attitudes and behaviors toward the drug based on the number of deceptions present.
The second study will focus on the differences between two types of deceptive claims, implicit and explicit. According to FDA, the second study will help the agency determine how implicit and explicit claims influence consumers' and healthcare professionals' ability to detect and respond to deceptive information.
In both studies, FDA says it also plans to measure participants' intent to report deceptive information based on the degree and type of deception present in the promotional pieces.
The announcement of the study follows a number of recent proposals to evaluate such marketing practices, including a study on whether consumers can take more complicated information in television ads, how the public understands drug risks and more. Drugmakers have been critical of such research in the past.