Seniors’ Perceptions of Prescription Drug Advertisements: A Pilot Study of the Potential Impact on Informed Decision Making

Document Type



Community and Global Health (CGU)

Publication Date



Community Health | Community Health and Preventive Medicine | Medicine and Health Sciences | Mental and Social Health | Public Health



To conduct a pilot study exploring seniors’ perceptions of direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of prescription drugs and how the advertisements might prepare them for making informed decisions with their physicians.


We interviewed 15 seniors (ages 63–82) individually after they each watched nine prescription drug advertisements recorded from broadcast television. Grounded Theory methods were used to identify core themes related to the research questions.


Four themes emerged from the interviews about DTCA: (1) awareness of medications was increased, (2) information was missing or misleading and drugs were often perceived as more effective than clinical evidence would suggest, (3) most seniors were more strongly influenced by personal or vicarious experience with a drug – and by their physician – than by DTCA, and (4) most seniors were circumspect about the information in commercial DTCA.


DTCA may have some limited benefit for informed decision making by seniors, but the advertisements do not provide enough detailed information and some information is misinterpreted.

Practical implications

Physicians should be aware that many patients may misunderstand DTCA, and that a certain amount of time may be required during consultations to correct these misconceptions until better advertising methods are employed by the pharmaceutical industry.

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Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

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