A recent article in the Israel Journal of Health Policy Research discusses concerns surrounding advertisements and disease awareness campaigns as they relate to patient empowerment.
Medications have always been a central component of the healthcare process. It is therefore paramount that medications are prescribed and used accurately and precisely. Historically, health information, including information concerning medications, came directly from health care providers and not from the companies that manufactured the drugs. In fact, most countries prohibited direct-to-consumer advertisements of medications believing that direct pharmaceutical company advertising was a dangerous precedent.
In a recent report compiled in Israel, researchers described the current perspectives and present concerns regarding regulatory guidelines and procedures for regulating medication prescription, use, and access. All over the world, the strategies applied regarding medication regulations, once achieved, have had positive effects on a patient’s disease impact and outcome.
There remains the concern for non-compliance or adherence to medication regime and patients not taking their medication as prescribed. This is strongly due to the fact that patients lack the necessary education and relevant information on their condition and their medications. Multiple strategies have however been implemented in several countries across the world to raise patients’ awareness about disease conditions and the importance of medications. These strategies are called disease awareness campaigns aimed at building public awareness to specific diseases. Some countries have also initiated policies allowing the direct-to-consumer advertisement to activate public awareness of prescription medicines, specific treatments, and available over-the-counter products to improve the accessibility of patients to specific medicines.
Direct-to-consumer advertising is legal in the United States, with several key restrictions. Advertisements must be accurate and not misleading and must contain detailed lists and descriptions of the possible side effects. Although discouraged by the American Medical Association, the Food and Drug Administration contends that disease awareness campaigns can provide increased awareness to consumers and encourage consumers to seek appropriate treatment.
Direct-to-consumer advertising and disease awareness campaigns are strictly prohibited in Canada by the Canadian Food and Drugs Act and the Food andDrug Regulations. This includes any product or medical device that makes claims to treat, prevent, or cure any major diseases.
The British Authority has the most comprehensive policies regarding disease awareness campaigns, and they are outlined in its “Blue Guide”. The Blue Guide allows disease awareness campaigns but does not allow the mention of specific brand names. Disease awareness campaigns should allow patients to recognize the symptoms and risk factors, and outline appropriate steps for treatment.
Prior to 2013, medication advertising was strictly prohibited in Israel, and this prevented the pharmaceutical companies from disseminating information to patients. However, within the last five years, the Pharmaceutical division of the Israeli Ministry of Health has moved forward with a new agenda, aimed at empowering patients. Although direct-to-consumer advertising is still strictly prohibited, disease awareness campaigns are allowed as long as they don’t mention specific medications. This new approach has led to the rise in public awareness of the disease, medication usage. Patients are now able to receive information more readily. They have access to information regarding disease conditions and the relevant medications prescribed to improve their health. Further strategies have been implemented including pre- and post-prescription information to advance a patient’s appropriate usage and compliance with medication.
In this integrative article published in the Israel Journal of Health Policy Research, the researchers closely examined the regulatory activities that presently exist worldwide. It was noted by these researchers, that regulations must be controlled by healthcare providers, the patients, and the pharmaceutical industry. There is a balance between the dissemination of information and “disease mongering” which may result from direct-to-consumer advertising and disease awareness campaigns. It is of utmost importance that information is easy to obtain and accurate to ensure patient empowerment.
Written by Dr. MòNique J. Grant Coke, DNP, MPH, BSN, Medical Writer
Reference: Schwartzberg, E., Barnett-Itzhaki, Z., Grotto, I.,& Marom, E. (2017). Strategies for patient empowerment through the promotion of medicines in Israel: regulatory framework for the pharmaceutical industry. Isr J Health Policy Res. 6(1):50. doi: 10.1186/s13584-017-0175-y.