Branding & Exposure

Should Drug Companies Pay Patients to Promote Medicine?

Should Drug Companies Pay Patients to Promote Medicine?

Pharmaceutical companies are constantly looking for ways to promote their products. One of their main methods is to send pharmaceutical reps to clinics and hospitals to convince doctors to use their products. Another is the use of ads either on television, the internet, or elsewhere. There’s lots of controversy regarding these ads as they can have consequences such as breaking down doctor-patient relationships and misleading patients. One of the methods they can make these ads more effective is by using celebrities. You see a celebrity promoting a drug that treats a condition that you have, you’re definitely going to want to find out more about it and probably ask your doctor for it.

There are two ways celebrities can be included in these ads. The first is that just like any advert for a product they can simply pay the celebrity to promote the drug, regardless of whether or not he or she actually uses the drug. The other, which has more credibility, is to use an actor who actually has the condition and actually takes the drug in order to promote it. This will probably have a greater effect, especially if the celebrity’s condition is known and public. One famous example of this is when Kim Kardashian promoted morning sickness pills while she was pregnant. There are lots of issues to be discussed here, from privacy to the effect it’ll have on the doctor patient relationship.

First of all we need to discuss how a company will find out if a celebrity is using their drug. Doctor patient confidentiality is a serious issue protected by HEPA and any breach of this could have serious consequences. If a company finds out from anyone other than the patient, in this case a celebrity, then this could be an issue to be looked into. Whether they found out from someone who’s close to the celebrity, from the drugstore, or from the doctor this is all unacceptable. If the celebrity’s condition is known to the public and the company assumes that he or she is using their drug for treatment, should they call and find out? That’s another talking point. Is it okay to call someone famous to get them to advertise for you if you find out they’re using your product? I don’t think that’s acceptable at all. If a famous star is caught on camera eating a certain kind of chips, should that chip company call and arrange an advert? I doubt it. It’s probably worse and even more sensitive when it comes to treatment.

Here’s where the issue becomes raising awareness vs exploitation. It can be argued that calling someone with a disease to ask them if they’re using your drug is pure exploitation. It’s like saying “we know you’re using our product, how about we pay you to advertise it?” You can’t expect the person receiving the call to be okay with that. Medical conditions are seriously protected and shouldn’t be exploited like that. If a celebrity chose to share their condition online with fans then that’s their business. They’re humans too. Them being more well known and capable of increasing revenue doesn’t make it okay to take advantage of that. Companies will argue that they’re only doing this to raise awareness about a certain disease. If their aim is to raise awareness about a condition then why is their product the highlight of the advert? If you want to raise awareness then you shouldn’t try to gain any profit by it. It’s also important to keep in mind that celebrities wouldn’t have trouble contacting pharmaceutical companies. If they thought it was a good idea to raise awareness via that method it would be easy for them to get in touch with someone at a pharmaceutical company.

Needless to say, if their condition was made public by them then they’re probably already raising awareness for it. This makes the entire purpose of this nullified. The ad won’t have a more significant effect than that of a celebrity’s Twitter or Instagram. In fact the ads made by the company will probably be shared on the celebrity’s social media accounts anyway and not on tv or other forms of media. Basically celebrity endorsement is mostly aimed at benefiting the company and not really about raising awareness or helping the celebrity in any way. Kim Kardashian didn’t raise awareness. Everyone knows about morning sickness. She just had an opportunity and took it.

There’s no doubt that getting a celebrity to endorse your product will definitely boost your sales. This applies to anything and not just drugs. There are issues to be considered with drugs though. If you’re advertising prescription drugs then this could have consequences such as the viewers being misinformed because adverts will often focus on the benefits of the drug and exaggerate them while minimizing the side effects. In addition to this, drugs that are advertised are often new ones. A company won’t advertise a drug it made 15 years ago. A drug that has only been around for 5 years or so shouldn’t be advertised freely because the full range of its side effects is still unknown. It could cause side effects that take a long time to develop or appear. Again, if the focus of the advert is awareness then great. Unfortunately that’s rarely the case. There’s usually little talk about the disease and lots of talk about the company product. The one perk of these ads is that they get patients to visit their doctors and discuss their conditions and treatment options. Unfortunately they can result in a breakdown of a patient’s relationship with their doctor.

If a doctor is responsible for a company knowing that a celebrity is using their drug then that is definitely on the doctor. It could leave them exposed to lawsuits and maybe being suspended from practicing medicine. Your patients’ trust should be the most valuable thing to you and just because your patient is famous doesn’t mean their condition should be too. Even if you don’t get sued, your patients will probably lose faith in you and realize they can’t trust you which will have them looking for new doctors.

Another downside to this which you, as a doctor, may suffer from even if you were the perfect doctor is patients being too attached to a certain drug. It’s like wanting to buy your favorite player’s jersey, except this is serious because it’s about your health. You find out a celebrity has a disease you have as well and you decide you want to be treated the same way. As a doctor it’s important to be patient and explain to your patients their condition carefully and why you can’t let them have their way. It’s perfectly natural for two people with the same condition to be on completely different medication. A very simple example of this is diabetes. One diabetic patient could be on insulin while the other is on oral hypoglycemics. You could even have two diabetics on different oral hypoglycemics. Each person and case is different from the other.

If your patients still choose to leave you and look for another doctor who gives them the drug they want then that’s up to them and there’s nothing you can do about it. The important thing is to not harm a patient just because they kept insisting on something.

Basically there are lots of factors when it comes to advertising drugs and even more factors when celebrities are involved. Issues such as finding out that a celebrity uses your product and whether or not to contact them. Some may claim that the purpose of this is to raise awareness about a condition, but the truth is it’s usually to raise awareness about the product.

Key Takeaways

  • Celebrities don't really need to raise awareness about conditions they've already revealed to have.
  • However, there's no doubt that a celebrity endorsement of your product will boost sales.
  • Advise your patients that just because they share an illness with a celebrity, they shouldn't necessarily take the same medication.