Assuming you are not an car engine expert, you wouldn’t tell a car mechanic what’s wrong with your car and recommend to him or her how to fix it. Similarly, if you are not an attorney, it’s doubtful you would offer legal advice to your lawyer. And finally, if you have no educational background in engineering, odds are you would not talk to an engineer about how to best build a bridge.
Why, then, do we regularly see pharmaceutical advertisements in America suggesting that common, everyday people should broker conversations with physicians about the drugs that they (physicians) should be prescribing??
What others around the world think of our drug ads
Does it not seem odd, at minimum, that a layperson should be in the think tank with a physician who has an abundance of education and experience deciding about the various drugs to be used with different medical conditions? Of course it does, but that is exactly what is happening in America today — and has been now for almost three decades. Being one of only two countries in the entire world to allow drug companies to direct advertise to Americans has created a potentially dangerous situation, but because we have become desensitized to all the ads over the years we hardly stop and think about it anymore. And just so you know I am not being dramatic or over-stating things, the next time you watch one of these ads take note how we are directly told to “have a conversation with your doctor about ______ drug.” While that might sound normal to Americans, the rest of the world gladly defers to physicians to use their education, experience, and wisdom to make these decisions with patients playing a far lesser role.
Recently I examined social media posts on this very subject and note some comments below that caught my attention. The following posts highlight the (dangerous) differences between what we in America have accepted as “normal,” versus how others around the globe view pharmaceutical companies advertising directly to people:
“I can’t understand why American tv ads are like ‘ask your doctor for…’ or ‘tell your doctor…’ Why the hell would you be the one to tell a DOCTOR what medicine to give you????? Maybe I’m too European but WTF?”
“American adverts are unhinged! It’s wild how many drugs get casual ads.”
“Only in America do people follow through with what drug companies tell them to do and ‘ask your doctor about the purple pill.’ INSANE.”
I again ask if you are not a physician, or someone with a great deal of knowledge about pharmaceutical drugs, should you be the one telling your doctor what you should be taking?
What patients should do instead
Just to be clear, while I do not advocate for people to tell their doctors what drugs they should be using, I do strongly recommend that you are an active, critically thinking healthcare consumer. What this means, specifically, is that it is wise to do your homework by visiting credible medical websites and engage in healthy conversations with your physician about all the different approaches that can be considered to remedy your specific healthcare condition. What treatments are out there? How long have these treatments been available? What results should I expect, and by when? And of course, what potential side-, withdrawal-, and interaction-effects with other medications should be considered? Ask important questions, clarify things that are unclear, and work to find solutions that are best for you — which may or may not include the drugs you saw on tv.
Just because things have always been done a certain way doesn’t make it safe, healthy, or right. Yes, pharmaceutical companies have been directly advertising to Americans since the mid- 1990’s, and over time we have come to accept this as normal. The potential danger, however, is when people with little to no scientific, healthcare, or medical background begin suggesting to their doctor how they should be treated and with what medications. Not everyone around the world operates this way, in fact, only two other countries do. It is for these reasons that it’s generally a safe rule of thumb to let experts do what they do, and for the rest of us to be active, critically thinking participants looking to learn rather than take over important healthcare decisions.