Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Medical marketing spending has ballooned over the last 20 years, led largely by direct-to-consumer spending, a study says.
Spending on marketing for drugs and disease awareness campaigns, health services and laboratory testing shot up to nearly $30 billion in 2016, up from $17.7 billion almost 20 years prior, according to a new study published Tuesday in JAMA. The biggest jump in spending, however, was in direct-to-consumer, or DTC, marketing, which accounted for nearly a third of the overall spike.
"The growth of DTC advertising reflects and benefits from the continued movement toward patient- centered health care, which emphasizes patient agency in directing and managing health and health care decisions," Dr. Selena Ortiz and Dr. Meredith Rosenthal wrote in an editorial responding to the study read. "But while centering health care decisions on patient preferences is a positive trend, the expansion of DTC advertising remains controversial, with evidence of both benefits and harms."
DTC marketing allows companies to send messages and give more power to customers, bypassing potentially helpful input from doctors. This marketing strategy includes drug companies targeting customers with advertisments, coupons and rebates for expensive, name-brand prescriptions that could have cheaper, generic alternatives.
These kinds of worries led the American Medical Association to recommend a ban on DTC advertising in 2015 out of concern that it drives up the costs of drugs.
Advocates have also linked DTC marketing to an uptick in patient prescriptions and overall visits to their doctors, which can drive up overall patient costs.
For example, a 2005 study suggested that DTC led patients to "overuse" depression drugs.
"Patients' trust in physicians puts them in a position to help mitigate the harms of DTC advertising," Ortiz and Rosenthal wrote.