Direct to consumer advertising

The Editorial Executive Committee welcomes letters, which should be less than 250 words. Before a decision to publish is made, letters which refer to a published article may be sent to the author for a response. Any letter may be sent to an expert for comment. When letters are published, they are usually accompanied in the same issue by their responses or comments. The Committee screens out discourteous, inaccurate or libellous statements. The letters are sub-edited before publication. Authors are required to declare any conflicts of interest. The Committee's decision on publication is final.

Editor, – It has become apparent in the last couple of years that many pharmaceutical companies are providing a broader spectrum of services to general practitioners and their patients. Examples include educational activities, clinical audits and patient education services.

One large multinational company states on its advertising material that it has two current databases of patient-based information containing (as at December 2000) over 22 000 and 9000 entries. These patients have been enrolled, usually by their general practitioners, often via the software utilised by the general practitioner, to receive patient educational material from the company. This material relates to particular diagnoses where the company's product has been prescribed.

Direct to consumer advertising would appear to be looming on the horizon. This would provide far easier access for the marketing and sale of pharmaceutical products, bypassing the current appropriate systems that are in place - systems such as advertising in professional journals, and distribution of pharmaceuticals through appropriate outlets.

In this case, the consumer is usually a patient. A patient often has an illness. This illness may be physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, or a combination of some or all. Consequently, it is not unreasonable to assume that the patient is vulnerable, due to disability, fear, anxiety, lack of appropriate information, etc.

Pharmaceutical companies are primarily businesses, and not benevolent societies. To succeed in today's environment a business usually has to be profit-driven, and responsible to its shareholders. Advertising plays a major role in this successful profile.

If my crystal ball gazing is correct, and direct to consumer advertising is in the pipeline, then pharmaceutical companies would be wise to prepare themselves in advance. This would make commercial sense. Data collection would have to be part of this strategy. If this does occur, then the normal gate keeping provided by general practitioners and pharmacists will be bypassed to a large degree, and the costs of pharmaceuticals to society would presumably increase considerably.

Scott Bell
Rural and Remote Locum