A recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows that expenditures on medical marketing in the United States significantly increased between 1997 and 2016. The study showed that spending on medical marketing rose from $17.7 billion in 1997 to $29.9 billion in 2016.1
Health care spending in the U.S. is the highest in the world amounting to $3.3 trillion in 2016, which equals to 17.8 percent gross domestic product (GDP). In order to capture a share of this market, pharmaceutical companies, health care professionals, device manufacturers and medical trade organizations use a wide variety of promotional and marketing strategies to increase the sale of their products.1
The authors of the study, Lisa Schwartz , MD and Steve Woloshin, MD explain how medical marketing works:
The marketing of medicine involves a complex interaction involving industry, organizations, and individuals involved in health care. Pharmaceutical and device manufacturers target health care professionals and health care organizations, and these companies, along with those that manufacture other clinical products and consumer-based products, target various health care organizations and audiences to generate sales directly (such as with marketing toward consumers, clinicians, pharmacy benefit managers, insurers, and employers) and indirectly (by funding patient advocacy organizations and opinion leaders who in turn generate interest in drugs, devices, testing, and other services).1
The study reveals that the highest increase in medical marketing was in direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising, which increased from $2.1 billion (11.9 percent) of total spending in 1997 to $9.6 billion (32 percent) in 2016 of the total spending in 2016. Interestingly, DTC prescription drug advertisements increased from $1.3 billion (79,000 advertisements) to $6 billion (4.6 million advertisements), with a heavy shift focusing on biologics (vaccines) and cancer immunotherapies.1
According to Dr. Woloshin, “There’s evidence when you reach out to consumers, they’re more likely to choose advertised drugs even when there are good effective lower-cost alternatives. So it’s effective. It’s also a way to get around doctors, not just for drugs but for services, too.”2
The authors of the study state that, “Although spending on DTC advertising for prescription drugs and health services increased the fastest, spending on pharmaceutical marketing to professionals consistently accounted for most promotional spending, despite efforts to limit industry entanglements. Although marketing expanded over 20 years, regulatory oversight remains relatively limited.”1
1 Schwartz L, Woloshin S. Medical Marketing in the United States, 1997-2016. JAMA 2019; 321(1): 80-96.
2 Synder Bulik B. Medical marketing spend is inching toward $30B, and DTC’s share is growing. FiercePharma Jan. 10, 2019.