Heroes

Doctors have an idea that could save a ton of money: No more drug ads.

It'll take an act of Congress to ban the practice, but the AMA is on board.

Doctors have an idea that could save a ton of money: No more drug ads.

Have you ever thought about how weird it is that drug companies can advertise something you can't even buy without a prescription?

I always thought the process was supposed to be: feel sick, go to the doctor, explain my symptoms, get diagnosed by a professional, and if needed, get a prescription for a drug based on what's wrong with you.

But no, these commercials always end with the same refrain: "Ask your doctor if [our product] is right for you."


That can't be how it's supposed to work, right?

"I saw an ad that told me I should ask you if this medication is right for me, Dr. Stockphotoman." Image via iStock.

The American Medical Association announced it also thinks there's something weird about those ads.

"Today's vote in support of an advertising ban reflects concerns among physicians about the negative impact of commercially-driven promotions, and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices," AMA board chair-elect Patrice Harris said in November. "Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate."

And while the amount of money these companies spend marketing and selling their products to doctors is also a big concern, this is a pretty big deal, too.

There are only two countries in the world that allow drug manufacturers to advertise prescription drugs direct to consumers: the United States and New Zealand. And after this announcement, the AMA hopes that number drops by half.

Drug manufacturers spend $4.5 billion on advertising to consumers each year, up 30% from just two years ago.

And $1.1 billion of that ad money in 2014 was spent by a single company, Pfizer, in promoting drugs like Lyrica, Viagara, Celebrex, and Chantix.

In addition to being a really poor way of storing medication, this just can't be sanitary. Buy a wallet, please. Image via iStock.

A strong majority of the public believes prescription pricing is a top health care issue.

An October report from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 77% of those polled viewed "Making sure that high-cost drugs for chronic conditions are affordable to those who need them" as a top health care priority. The next most pressing issue, supported by 63% of individuals was urging the government to take action to lower prescription drug prices.

"Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate."

And that's what the AMA's resolution hopes to address: the skyrocketing cost of drugs.

"In the past few years, prices on generic and brand-name prescription drugs have steadily risen and experienced a 4.7% spike in 2015, according to the Altarum Institute Center for Sustainable Health Spending," reads AMA's press release.

"I take a couple uppers. I down a couple downers But nothing compares to these blue and yellow purple pills." Image via iStock.

But if companies don't advertise, how will people know what to ask for? By trusting our doctors.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) is not in favor of AMA's resolution.

A representative tells Bloomberg, "Providing scientifically accurate information to patients so that they are better informed about their health care and treatment options is the goal of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising. Research shows that accurate information about disease and treatment options makes patients and doctors better partners."

And that sort of makes sense, right? But that's kind of the problem. The reason we go into doctors' offices is to have our symptoms diagnosed and treated. When we go in with a diagnosis already in mind (and with a brand name treatment to go with it), we're effectively sidestepping the whole point of having doctors.

I want to live in the world where I go to the doctor, not wait for an ad to tell me about a solution for a problem I didn't know I had. I want to live in a world where I can trust my doctor, not rely on self-diagnosis through marketing dollars. The whole thing is a distraction.

Doing research-y things. Image via iStock.

Unfortunately, the AMA's decision doesn't actually change ... well ... anything. That's up to Congress.

And Congress has forces pushing on all sides of this issue. The most common force? Cold hard cash. That's capitalism for you.

In 2014, the AMA, which represents around 235,000 doctors and medical students, spent $19.7 million lobbying Congress. On the other side of this, PhRMA spent $16.6 million on lobbying in 2014.

A medical technical assistant studies the influenza virus in 2009. Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images.

For better care, we need to get rid of the distraction advertising plays in the process of getting diagnosed.

You can start by contacting your member of Congress and asking about their position on the AMA's recent resolution.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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