Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 14, Issue 11, pp 651–657

Direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising and the public

  • Robert A. Bell
  • Richard L. Kravitz
  • Michael S. Wilkes

DOI: 10.1046/j.1525-1497.1999.01049.x

Cite this article as:
Bell, R.A., Kravitz, R.L. & Wilkes, M.S. J GEN INTERN MED (1999) 14: 651. doi:10.1046/j.1525-1497.1999.01049.x


OBJECTIVE: Drug manufacturers are intensely promoting their products directly to consumers, but the impact has not been widely studied. Consumers’ awareness and understanding of, attitudes toward, and susceptibility to direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug advertising were examined.

DESIGN: Random-digit dialing telephone survey with a random household member selection procedure (completion and response rates, 58% and 69%, respectively).

SETTING: Respondents were interviewed while they were at their residences.

PARTICIPANTS: Complete data were obtained from 329 adults in Sacramento County, California.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Outcome measures included awareness of advertisements for 10 selected drugs, misconceptions about DTC advertising, attitudes toward DTC ads, and behavioral responses to such promotions. The influence of demographic characteristics, health status, attitudes, beliefs, and media exposure on awareness and behaviors was examined. On average, respondents were aware of advertisements for 3.7 of the 10 drugs; awareness varied from 8% for Buspar (buspirone) to 72% for Claritin (loratadine). Awareness was associated with prescription drug use, media exposure, positive attitudes toward DTC advertising, poorer health, and insurance status. Substantial misconceptions were revealed; e.g., 43% thought that only “completely safe” drugs could be advertised. Direct-to-consumer advertisements had led one third of respondents to ask their physicians for drug information and one fifth to request a prescription.

CONCLUSIONS: Direct-to-consumer advertisements are reaching the public, but selectively so, and affecting their behaviors. Implications for public policy are examined.

Key Words

prescription drugsadvertisingdrug safetydrug promotiondrug regulation

Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert A. Bell
    • 1
  • Richard L. Kravitz
    • 2
  • Michael S. Wilkes
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of CommunicationUniversity of CaliforniaDavis
  2. 2.Division of General Internal Medicine and Director, Center for Health Services Research in Primary CareUniversity of CaliforniaDavis, Sacramento
  3. 3.Department of Medicine, School of MedicineUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos Angeles