Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Do Pharma Marketers Encourage Consumers to Self-Diagnose?

Fellow blogger Rich Meyer over at World of DTC Marketing Blog has some good advice for pharmaceutical marketers based upon a survey of physicians (see "Physicians: We're concerned that too many people are self diagnosing").
"Doctors," said Rich, "were annoyed at drug company sites that offer patients a survey to determine if they need the medication. 'My patients think that answering a few questions is the final word and they then want the medication even though more tests are often needed.'"
Rich suggested, among other things, "If 10 people take a health survey on your product website and more than 50% get a recommendation to talk to their doctor about the medication than your survey is probably too general and needs to redone."

I've pointed out this problem in previous posts (see, for example, "You Must Score Better than 84% on Viagra's Sexual Health Quiz to NOT Have Signs of ED").

In that post I wondered "What is the scientific basis for this self-assessment?" Are the questions and rating structure something that Viagra marketers have just dreamed up? Or is the quiz based on an independent, medically-approved source?

That leads right to another of Rich's recommendations: "Drug companies should provide, on websites and consumers brochures, recommendations for sources of credible health information such as AMA, ADA, Mayo Clinic, Harvard Health."

Pfizer, however, does not reveal the source of it's ED rating system. Therefore, site visitors can't judge whether or not to trust the results. Yet they may believe the results are science-based and walk into their physician's office with an ED "self-diagnosis" based on this quiz.

Rich's first recommendation is: "Clearly state that the information on product websites is for information/education and that no website can diagnose a patient. It has to be done based on recommendations from the physician including the possibility of more tests."

While a statement to this effect is routinely included in every drug website, it is not sufficient on its own to absolve the drug company from certifying the scientific merit of self-diagnosis questionnaires (often called "Questions to Ask Your Physician").

Despite the fact that many drug website self-assessments are not supported by cited scientific evidence, many proponents of direct-to-consumer (DTC) promotion -- online and off -- claim that information provided by drug companies counteract "bad" information that consumers get from other sources. IMHO, self-assessment "quizzes" found on most drug websites are part of the problem, not the solution.


  1. Anonymous9:55 AM


    Social medical websites pose a risk as well, as laypeople in large part discuss often complex disease states.

    Both, I feel, are concerning.

  2. I would somewhat agree with you regarding social media websites. I say somewhat because it really depends upon the community. If it is a large, active one where different stakeholders are involved (ie, physicians as well as patients), the general consensus is that it will be self-correcting. I have often observed this myself.

    Of course, some people -- ie, snake-oil promoters -- may purposely promote bad medical information and do so in multiple communities and in ways that give the information top billing in search engines.

  3. Anonymous11:01 AM

    As regards quizzes on web sites, it is blatently obvious to insiders and the curious and surely raises questions in the minds of even the somewhat lazy that marketers spend $ on programming quizzes to drive scripts. If we accept this fact, then we can clearly see why even if you respond to one of 10 Qs that your sleep patterns are not perfect, that your nose occasionally itches, or that (heaven forbid) you don't have a rod of iron, so to speak, that you should talk to your doc. Period!

    As regards gathering info from/contributing to discussion boards or social media sites, my experience, and I'm sure that of many others, is that the usefulness and reliability are in large part a factor of the complexity of the disease state and the "visibility of change" of symptoms when medicines are administered to impact them.


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