Direct to consumer marketing for healthcare products is a controversial subject because of the fact that it brings together two very different worlds—the free market capitalist world and the health care world—and the end result can be a hodge-podge of confusion in which the best interests of the patient are not always front and center. In a free-market capitalist society, producers want to market their products so that they will sell and yield the producer a nice profit. In the health care industry, there is a need to place greater emphasis on prevention rather than treatment (Lichtenfeld, 2011) and even the Affordable Care Act in the U.S. was designed to promote preventive care by putting people before profits (Obama, 2016). However, the problem of direct to consumer marketing for healthcare products distorts the image of the healthcare industry and makes it unclear as to whether the industry is really out to serve the best interests of patients or if it is rather out to maximize profits. This paper will examine the study by Arnold and Oakley (2013) to understand what the issues are how the pharmaceutical industry’s principles for ethical direct-to-consumer advertising actually serve as a deceptive blocking strategy that keeps regulators at bay.
Ethics of Direct to Consumer Advertising for Healthcare Products
As Arnold and Oakley (2013) note, “companies in the health care industry enhance or harm the well-being of nearly all citizens in industrialized nations” (p. 505). In other words, they can go either way—either towards the betterment of the population or towards the detriment of the population. The main factor that will determine which way companies will go is the ethical factor. Are health care companies operating ethically? If so, they will invariably put the needs of the population before the ever-expanding profit-seeking goals of corporate management.
The problem that Arnold and Oakley (2013) point out is that healthcare companies in the U.S. tend to continuously violate ethical norms and standards, even constructing their own industry standards as a way of combating regulatory ethical frameworks, in order to advertise their products directly to consumers in ways that go against the wishes of the communities in which they do business. Arnold and Oakley (2013) use the example of the pharmaceutical...
The reality, as the researchers show, is that oversight is required because the companies are only paying lip service to the idea of ethical guidelines and are not in reality in the habit of abiding by them.
How Direct to Consumer Advertising May Affect the Physician/Patient Relationship
Direct to consumer advertising may affect the physician/patient relationship by breaching the trust that exists between the two. Health advice and guidance should be provided to patients by their physicians—not by the television commercials they see at the bar, while watching the sports game, or at home surfing channels on their couch. Every individual is going to have unique needs based on the personal medical health history, family history, one’s environment and so on. The physician is in a position to know what these factors are—the pharmaceutical industry that promotes its drugs on TV is not. True, these commercials typically end with the recommendation that patient ask his or her doctor about a particular drug to see if it is right for them—but the marketing effect is happening nonetheless: it is putting into the mind of the public the idea that these drugs exist, that they work, that they are helpful for people, and that if one’s physician is not recommending them or writing a prescription for them then that physician probably does not know what he is talking about or is getting paid by a different company to rep their drugs instead.
Direct to consumer advertising thus puts pressure on physicians to respond to what is being seen in the public arena by patients who are exposed to direct to consumer advertising by health care companies in the pharmaceutical industry. This is not pressure that would ordinarily or otherwise…
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