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What Are the Public Health Effects of Direct-to-Consumer Drug Advertising?

The impact of DTCA on patient expectations has important implications for evaluating its role in the health-care system. While these expectations can lead to inappropriate and excessive prescribing, they also may induce a placebo effect that might increase the clinical effectiveness of the advertised products. This seldom-discussed effect of DTCA should be taken into account in discussion of policy approaches to this form of marketing.

The placebo effect can be triggered by an array of stimuli, such as pills, doctors, and devices. The effect is profound: about one-third of patients report relief from postoperative pain, cough, headache, depression, and other conditions when given a placebo [2,3]. Surprisingly, the two models used to explain the placebo phenomenon are identical to the theories that lie behind the methodologies of consumer advertising.