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“See your doctor”: the impact of direct-to-consumer advertising on patients with different affliction levels


Pharmaceutical firms continue to advertise more and more prescription drugs directly to consumers, advocating them to discuss the focal health condition and the efficacy of the advertised drug with their physicians. In this paper, we investigate the effectiveness of such direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) on different types of patients. Specifically, we examine the impact of DTCA on patients with different affliction levels and the effectiveness of television versus print ads as an influence on more severely versus mildly afflicted patients to visit their physicians. Briefly, using data from the erectile dysfunction category, we find that DTCA generates a stronger response from new patients with severer versus milder afflictions. We also find that DTCA in print media generate a stronger response from new patients with severer versus milder afflictions whereas DTCA on television is more effective for new patients with milder conditions. We discuss the implications of our findings for policy makers concerned with improving public health as well as for pharmaceutical firms seeking to target different types of patients through print versus television ads.

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  1. 1.

    We acknowledge that another objective of DTCA is to remind current users and DTCA may influence new patients’ subsequent visits. We leave this as a future research avenue.

  2. 2.

    We thank an anonymous reviewer for suggesting the share model to appropriately assess the differential impact of DTCA on the two types of patients.

  3. 3.

    We add 1 to the share of mild patient visits to avoid the log of zero. For the DMA-month with zero new patient visits, the share is not defined. To solve the problem, we use the share from the previous month in the same DMA as an imputation for the share in the current month.

  4. 4.

    We tried to include an interaction effect between TV and print advertising but did not find significant interaction effect between TV and print advertising.

  5. 5.

    The grid search yields similar carry-over parameter estimates for the Poisson models. Our empirical results also remain qualitatively unchanged for alternative values of carryover rates.


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Correspondence to Qiang Liu.

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The data used in this study were generously provided by ImpactRx Inc

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Liu, Q., Liu, H. & Kalwani, M. “See your doctor”: the impact of direct-to-consumer advertising on patients with different affliction levels. Mark Lett (2020).

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  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Consumer involvement
  • Direct-to-consumer advertising
  • DTCA
  • Medium
  • Patient flow
  • Health care