PROVIDENCE, R.I., Sept. 14 (UPI) -- Small studies suggest that when patients request a specific drug for a condition, they are more likely to receive it, but whether this is caused by direct-to-consumer advertising and how it affects healthcare remains a significant question.
Direct-to-consumer advertising of psychiatric drugs appears to have an effect on prescription levels, and while increased awareness of specific drugs may help some people, it also could be leading to overprescribing drugs for patients who don't need them, researchers at Brown University report.
Direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs is legal only in the United States and New Zealand.
In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, the researchers found there have not been many examinations of the effects of advertising on actual medicine -- and the limited studies they found don't shed much light on the topic.
"In 2007, the editor of Annals of Family Medicine referred to direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs as 'a huge, uncontrolled public health experiment on American people," Sara Becker, a research assistant professor at the Brown University of Public Health, said in a press release. "Our review supported this statement. Very few rigorous studies have been conducted on DTCA over the past 20 years. But our review also didn't support a clear decision for or against DTCA -- the limited data aren't all bad or all good. It's possible that DTCA might help some people and might lead to over-prescribing in others."
For their analysis, researchers searched for previous studies that include data on healthcare point of service, focusing on or including psychiatric medication and assessments of the effects of DTCA on patient or physician behavior. They found four studies meeting the criteria.
While the studies suggest most patient requests for medications are granted, requests occurred less than 10 percent of the time in three of the four studies.
One study, which compared patients from Canada, where DTCA is against the law, with patients from the United States, found the Americans asked for medications at more than double the rate of Canadians.
The only randomized study researchers found for the analysis, conducted in 2005, showed standardized patients with severe symptoms of depression were more likely to get a medication if they asked for it. While this means patients who need drugs can receive them, the study also showed patients with less severe symptoms -- who may not actually need them -- were also more likely to receive a requested drug.
The researchers say the limited data discovered in their analysis suggests DTCA-inspired drug requests are typically accommodated, though not nearly enough was found to accurately extrapolate the effects of advertising.
"The most important conclusion of our study is that more research is needed," Becker said.