Dr. Aikin: It’s really a privilege to be able to do research that is so very applied and really affects everybody.
Kathryn Aikin, Ph.D.
Senior Social Science Analyst and Research Team Lead
Office of Medical Policy
Office of Prescription Drug Promotion
Dr. Aikin: The Office of Prescription Drug Promotion is responsible for ensuring that promotion of prescription drug products is communicated accurately, truthfully, and in a way that is balanced and not misleading.
Ultimately the goal is to improve the public health and to improve the communication of the profile of the particular product that’s being advertised. So our goal is to study aspects that improve that and study aspects that might be interfering with that so that we know what we can do or advise differently to help everybody get the best information that they can so that people can make good decisions about health.
Consumers tend to be reached through media channels that we’re familiar with, through print ads, through television ads, through radio, and brochures certainly, and also online.
How they put the ads together is really up to the company themselves and how they feel that they can best present the risk/benefit profile of the product.
We pay attention to the content, and that is: what’s being said, is it consistent with the labeling, and are the visuals and associated advertising features also an accurate presentation of what’s in the labeling?
One of the purposes and one of the goals of advertising in this type of promotion is to persuade. We have an understanding of how people process information, and the ways in which information can be shifted so as to emphasize one part versus another.
We know from our research if you present competing types of information, and that is you’re listening to one type of information, but on the screen and text there’s a completely different type of information, you have a hard time processing both.
The regulations state that the risk information has to be presented in at least the audio portion of the ad or the audio and visual, but the minimum requirement is the audio. So you have to be able to hear it. Print advertisements have to include a brief summary of all of the risks.
Advertising and promotion is really good at raising awareness. And so it’s important that this form of promotion be truthful and balanced and non-misleading.
An example would be this product prevents asthma attacks, when in fact it doesn’t treat an asthma attack that’s already in progress. So that might be a case where the ad is leaving a misleading impression about the effectiveness of the product during an emergency situation. And without that additional context someone might try to use their preventative medicine during an emergency. That could be a very serious situation.
As this form of advertising has gotten more and more visible, our work has become much more important, topical, and relevant. And it’s just a privilege. It’s a privilege to be here.