DTC Ads: Promoting Compliance a Win-Win Prospect


Direct-to-consumer advertising is having an unexpected and positive consequence that should encourage pharmaceutical companies to rethink the long-term implications of their DTC strategies. Recent research shows that DTC ads persuade consumers to ask their doctors about a particular medication, as well as promote compliance in patients who are already taking the product.

The ads’ long-term effect on patient compliance suggests that DTC strategies that focus on simply getting the initial prescription into the consumer’s hand may prevent the product from achieving its full potential. The result could be detrimental to the patient, the health care system, and the pharmaceutical company.

Confidence & Compliance

Prevention magazine recently conducted its annual survey of consumer reactions to DTC ads. Among the findings:

  • Consumers who see a DTC ad for a product they currently take are significantly more likely than others to say the ad made them more confident about their medication.
  • Three in ten patients already taking a product said they were more likely to take their prescribed medicine after seeing it advertised.
  • One third of the patients already taking a medication said DTC ads reminded them to have their prescription refilled–an eight percent increase from the 1998 survey.
Effective Strategy

Developing a strategy that reaches both groups is more difficult than targeting just those potential new customers. A comprehensive strategy must provide an information continuum for consumers who eventually transition into patients and then into patients taking the product for an extended period of time. The strategy must position DTC ads as just the first step in an ongoing patient compliance program.

Efforts that focus on getting doctors to write the initial prescription are shortsighted. Research shows that even when that happens, at least 10 percent of those patients will neglect to have a pharmacist fill the prescription–and also neglect to tell the doctor about their oversight. Research indicates that as many as one third of all prescriptions are never refilled.

The patient and the health care system have a significant investment in ensuring that prescriptions are refilled. The initial investment to purchase a product is wasted if the person stops taking it prematurely. The only way to promote successful therapy is to motivate the person to keep taking the medication and refill it at the proper intervals.

The far-reaching and unexpected benefit of DTC ads stretches far beyond the initial prescription but to the multitude of refills that determine not only the product’s success but the success of the therapy. Perhaps someday, product managers will actually include refill compliance cues to action on the front of the ad as well!

Consumers Are In Control!

The reality is that consumers are in control of the therapy as soon as they receive the prescription. They decide whether they will take the product. Since DTC ads can influence their behavior, the goal is to look beyond the initial prescription sales and realize that DTC ads can help increase consumer confidence in the medication and encourage patients to get their refills.

Patient compliance is at the heart of every product’s success. DTC ads can become effective stepping stones to increasing patient compliance with prescription medicines. When the DTC ad is conceptualized as just the first stage of a patient compliance program, patients are more likely to stay on their prescribed therapies and get their refills on time. In addition, the product manager will have increased product sales and more satisfied patients.

Dr. Dorothy L. Smith is a consumer education expert and president of Consumer Health Information Corporation. The full-service company specializes in patient labeling, program development, and strategic planning for DTC campaigns.

Published in Pharmaceutical Executive, December 1999. Copyrighted material; All rights reserved.