Study: TV Ads Sway Doctors

antidepressants, pill bottles, prozac, zoloft, paxil
CBS/The Early Show
"Ask your doctor," drug ads urge. If you do, you're much more likely to get a prescription — whether you need it or not.

That's the finding from a study in which trained actors went to 152 doctors in three cities. The actors played patients with clinical depression (for whom antidepressant drugs are appropriate) or patients with job loss and depressed mood (whom antidepressant drugs are unlikely to help).

Some of the mock patients asked the real primary care doctors for Paxil, an advertised, brand-name antidepressant drug. Others either asked in general terms whether antidepressant-type drugs might help them or made no request.

The idea was to look at how drug ads aimed at patients affect the way doctors practice medicine, says researcher Richard L. Kravitz, MD, MSPH, director of the Center for Health Services Research in Primary Care at the University of California, Davis. The study appears in the April 27 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Ask And You Shall Probably Receive

The study results:

  • People who ask doctors for antidepressant drugs are much more likely to get them — no matter how severe their condition.
  • Patients with major depression are more likely to get proper treatment if they ask about antidepressant drugs.
  • Patients with major depression were just as likely to get a prescription for antidepressants when they requested a specific drug as when they made a general request.
  • Patients asking for a specific brand-name drug — in this case, Paxil — were far more likely to get that drug than another antidepressant.
  • Patients with minor depression were more likely to get a questionable prescription if they asked for a brand-name drug.