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An Assessment of the Health System Impacts of Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of Prescription Medicines (NA250)

Recipient: Health Services Division, Health Policy and Communications Branch, Health Canada

Contribution: $88,800.00

This project had three components examining the impacts of the pharmaceutical industry’s advertising of prescription drugs directly to consumers, a practice that is illegal in Canada but common in the United States. Part one of this project explored economic theories to predict the benefit to consumers and the cost consequences of drug advertising and concluded that advertising is not geared to providing objective, verifiable health information but to increasing profit. In part two, researchers conducted an opinion survey of experts on the impact of direct-to-consumer advertising in Canada, the United States, and New Zealand. They found that advertising, media, and pharmaceutical respondents viewed advertising in a positive light, whereas representatives of other sectors across the health care spectrum did not. In part three, a pilot project was undertaken to compare patient/physician information and attitudes regarding prescription drugs in Vancouver and Sacramento. Its early results indicate that direct-to-consumer advertising has an impact in physicians’ offices in Vancouver. More than 30 per cent of those surveyed had seen U.S. advertisements for at least 10 drug products in the previous year, and doctors indicated that they were directly asked to prescribe advertised medications by 6.1 per cent of patients, while 9 per cent either requested a new prescription or raised the possibility of receiving a prescription for medicine they were not already taking.

Fact Sheet


This project was supported by the Health Transition Fund, which was created in 1997 to provide support for evidence-based decision-making in health care reform by supporting pilot and evaluation projects which test innovative approaches to health care delivery. The views expressed herein do no necessarily represent the official policy of federal, provincial, or territorial governments.


Last Modified: 2005-08-29