When asked which drug they would choose for bothersome heartburn, for instance, 68 percent of those who had seen ads with facts boxes picked what the researchers referred to as "the superior drug," compared with 31 percent of those who had looked at ads without facts boxes. About 80 percent of the facts-box group, versus 38 percent of the others, realized that the side effects of the two drugs were similar, the study said.
After looking at the cardiovascular drug ads, 72 percent of those who saw ads with facts boxes correctly described the risk reduction associated with the drugs, the study found. Just 9 percent of those who saw the standard ads -- without facts boxes -- were able to do this, it said.
"The box worked really well," Woloshin said. "People liked it. They were able to understand the information, and they were much more likely to choose the better of two drugs with the box than with the standard ad."
The ads used in the study were for drugs that require a doctor's prescription and can't simply be bought directly by consumers, but that was appropriate, Woloshin said.
"There are studies that show that doctors will often give patients the drugs they are interested in," he said. "So patients are not having discussions about the benefits and harms; [doctors] are just acceding to the patient's request."
But having ads with facts boxes would allow people to have meaningful discussions with their doctors about which drugs would be best for them, "rather than just coming in influenced by a slick advertisement," Woloshin said.
"The FDA ought to be doing this," he said. "They ought to have these facts boxes on drug ads so people get creditable information on how well their drugs work."
A spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhrMA), which represents drug research and biotechnology companies, said it is not opposed to giving consumers the data need
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