Get Big Pharma Off of My TV Screen and Out of My House

December 16, 2015
Ryan Gray, MD
Ryan Gray, MD

Ryan Gray, MD, is a former Air Force Flight Surgeon. He is now helping premed students overcome obstacles on their journey to become physicians at the Medical School Headquarters.

Physicians don't have enough time to properly research each medication on their own. The pharmaceutical industry needs to better teach physicians about their medications instead of driving patients to demand them.

We've all heard those words while watching TV commercials: "Ask your doctor for more information." They usually follow a long list of side effects for a fancy new medication that treats a disease that didn't exist before the medication and commercial were created.

I cringe every time I see a pharmaceutical commercial.

I try to always put myself in the patient's shoes. If I'm a patient watching these commercials, all I do is sit there and think about whether or not I fit into any of the symptoms they are listing off.

It reminds me of medical school, going through my psychiatry rotations, and thinking I had each disorder I was learning about.

There's a huge difference between reading about disorders and thinking you may have them as a medical student and sitting on the couch being told you have one of 30 new disorders every month.

I had context studying the psychiatry books. Most consumers sitting at home have none.

I've already written about Dr. Google, and how patients are now doing a lot of their own research online, but this is completely different.

When patients search their own symptoms, they have the context of their own body and what they are feeling.

When watching a television commercial, we're often told how we should be feeling, and then pitched a drug for those feelings.

I started thinking about writing this piece long before news came out that the AMA is seeking to ban direct-to-consumer ads, exactly what these television commercials are.

Did you know that the United States is one of only two countries that allows direct-to-consumer marketing for pharmaceuticals? The other is New Zealand, a country with only about 1% of the population of the US.

The FDA legalized these ads in 1985 and in my opinion it was a huge mistake, and it's something I think all physicians should want changed immediately.

Nine out of 10 big pharmaceutical companies spend more on marketing than on research. When pharma companies are in the news for raising prices 5000% overnight, maybe it's time we let them spend so much on advertising, and help them reduce costs.

The healthcare and pharmaceutical industries speak a unique language, and there is so much more that goes into prescribing medications to patients than matching a diagnosis and a pill.

Pharmaceutical commercials only act to hurt the relationship between a physician and a patient, especially the patients that don't have good relationships already with their physician.

Patients need to have a relationship built on trust and mutual respect with their physician. This allows a patient and the physician to know what is in the best interest of that patient, at that time, for that disease (and to know it's not just a "commercial disease"). Not just seek out the medication from the company with the biggest advertising budget.

Physicians don't have enough time to properly research each medication on their own. The pharmaceutical industry needs to better teach physicians about their medications instead of driving patients to demand them.