Despite the fact that consumers claim to read the risk disclosures on websites for branded pharmaceuticals, research conducted at the University of Tennessee suggests that this isn’t always true. Risk disclosures are an important component in maintaining compliance in pharmaceutical marketing, but some companies have been accused of failing to disclose risks in accordance with regulations set out by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Using eye tracking, two professors from the advertising department at the university studied the website browsing habits of 29 seasonal allergy sufferers. They then compared this information to follow up interviews based on the amount of information the participants read and retained.
In order to ensure responses would be unbiased, participants were kept in the dark as to the true purpose of the research. They were told that the study was investigating how people search for health information on the internet, and that the website they were directed to was designed for a new allergy drug.
While 80 percent of the volunteers reported that they read half or more of the information on the website, the eye tracking data found that they read much less, and instead focused on the drug’s benefit claims, as opposed to the risks. According to the researchers, this finding may not apply to all drugs, as the participants could have felt they were already familiar with the common side effects of taking an allergy medication.
“There are so many factors that may be influencing a person when looking at the drug website,” Mariea Hoy, one of the advertising researchers who led the study, told FiercePharma. “Our study found that for individuals who perceived themselves to be familiar with the condition and the drugs that treated it, and subsequently thought ‘it’s just an allergy drug,’ they were only looking for benefits and subsequently ignored the risk information.”
Hoy went on to say that the participant interviews did not suggest that people had developed a habit of ignoring the risk disclosures on branded drug websites. The researchers have shared their study results with the FDA, and have offered pharmaceutical companies some advice on making the risk information more readable.
“Pharma companies should try to identify why people aren’t reading the risks,” said Hoy. “Are they trying to avoid negative information? Do they think they already know the risks? Do they discount the risks for themselves, with the it-won’t-happen-to-me mindset known as ‘optimum bias?’”
Of course, consumers might be more likely to read the risk disclosures if they were presented before the benefits for a drugs, however this solution is not likely to be popular among pharmaceutical companies. Drugmakers have been criticized for using direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising techniques which highlight the benefits of a drug, while minimizing the potential side effects.