Choosing Wisely campaign backs ban on direct to consumer advertising of medicines

23 Aug 2019 | Health Quality & Safety Commission

The New Zealand Choosing Wisely campaign is joining Consumer NZ and the Council of Medical Colleges in calling for a ban on the advertising of prescription medicines to consumers. Choosing Wisely encourages consumers and health professionals to discuss whether a particular test, treatment or procedure is needed, before going ahead with it. The campaign is sponsored by the Council of Medical Colleges, PHARMAC and Southern Cross, with partners Consumer NZ and the Health Quality & Safety Commission.

A recent survey by Consumer NZ found:

  • 57 percent of Kiwis supported an ad ban, in favour of a health information service that provided independent advice about treatment options
  • the majority (59 percent) didn’t think drug company ads gave them unbiased and comprehensive information
  • over half strongly agreed drug companies were likely to spend most money advertising medicines that gave them the most profit.

New Zealand and the United States are the only two developed countries in which this type of advertising is completely legal.

Choosing Wisely facilitator Sue Ineson says direct to consumer advertising can lead to increased costs, inappropriate prescribing, overtreatment and harm caused by treatment.

'Branded medications may cost significantly more than generic medications or non-drug therapy, so can lead to increased costs for consumers who could have been prescribed cheaper options.

'It can also lead to inappropriate prescribing as doctors may feel pressured by patients to prescribe certain medications. Sometimes these are prescribed instead of other options such as healthy eating or increased physical activity.'

She says a third problem with this sort of advertising is that it can lead to overtreatment and harm caused by treatment.

'In the US, the Food and Drug Administration – which is the regulator of direct to consumer advertising in that country – has warned several pharmaceutical companies that their sponsored links on search engines were misbranded because they did not provide statements about adverse effects.'

Sue Ineson says it is important consumers and health professionals have good discussions about the best care or treatment for a condition.

'Sometimes that can be no treatment; or a lifestyle change rather than medication. The Choosing Wisely campaign encourages consumers to discuss four questions with their health professional: Do I really need this test or procedure? What are the risks? Are there simpler, safer options? What happens if I don’t do anything?'

Choosing Wisely supports amendment of the Therapeutics Products Bill to prohibit direct to consumer advertising of prescription medicines.

Last updated 23/08/2019