Impact of Risk Disclosures Through Direct-to-Consumer Advertising on Elderly Consumers’ Behavioral Intent

Authors: Prashant Tukaram Nikam, The Ohio State University
Year: 2003

Focus Area: Prevention, Consumer Behavior

Relevance: Communication about risk happens both in legitimate fraud prevention programs and in fraud pitches to victims. In this research about pharmaceutical advertisements, the type of risk warning (general vs. specific) was more important than the number of warnings. The type of warning also influenced whether people sought further information about the product – people who heard specific warnings were less likely to research the product further. Do these trends hold true for fraud prevention programs?

Summary: Direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) for prescription drugs encourages consumers to approach their doctors about the advertised product. The FDA requires that these advertisements present balanced information about the risks and benefits of the product, but in practice these regulations are bent or broken.

  • The type of risk warning is more important than the number of warnings. People who received generalized information about the risks of an advertised drug thought more positively about the drug than people who received information about specific risks – regardless of the number of risk warnings they received.
  • People who received information about specific risks were less likely to research further information about the drug than people who heard generalized warnings.
  • The participants, who were all over 60, were more likely to ask their pharmacist or doctor for information about a drug than to research it online or in publications.
  • There are public health risks associated with overly strong risk warnings; people at risk for a condition may not seek help for it and people may not take prescribed medicine as directed if they fear side effects. These public health risks should be balanced when creating appropriate direct-to-consumer advertisements.

Abstract (from the authors): The new FDA guidelines on Direct-to-Consumer Advertising (DTCA) of prescription drugs require the sponsor to present balanced benefit-risk information. However, data suggest frequent lack of compliance with these guidelines. Misinformation to consumers can have serious implications on health and safety. The study objective was to explore the impact of variations in risk disclosures through DTC print advertisements on consumer attitudes and behaviors. A 2 x 2 factorial design was implemented, where the risk statements in the advertisements varied in number and specificity. A convenience sample of 240 elderly (≥ 60 years) male and female participants was recruited. The participants were asked to read a print advertisement and then complete a questionnaire.

Participants exposed to specific risk statements were less likely to look for additional information (p<0.01) and adopt the advertised drug (p<0.01). Additionally, they held less favorable attitudes toward the advertised drug (p<0.01) as compared to those presented with general risk statements. The number of risk statements presented had no significant effect on attitudes or behaviors. However, a two-way interaction effect of number and specificity of risk statements on likelihood of adoption was observed. This interaction demonstrates that when participants were exposed to two risk statements, they did not significantly differ in adoption rates as a function of specificity. However, when exposed to four risk statements, specificity had a significant impact on adoption of the advertised drug, such that participants receiving four specific risk statements were less likely to adopt the advertised drug. These findings have significant implications health policy. Presentation of highly specific risk information can adversely affect healthcare seeking behavior. Thus, drug manufacturers should aim at providing fair balance of benefit-risk information to lay consumers without compromising public health. There is also a need to re-evaluate and develop explicit FDA guidelines on fair balance of risk information presented in DTCA. Furthermore, the current research indicates that highly specific drug risk information can heighten perceived risk, which may result in reduced compliance.

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