News Release

BU study explores the effect of consumer advertising of cosmetic procedures on patients

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Boston University School of Medicine

(Boston)—Direct to consumer (DTC) advertising is a common form of healthcare communication and pharmaceutical marketing in the United States. Throughout the last few decades, pharmaceutical expenditures have shifted from targeting physicians to targeting select consumers.

Now a new study finds that while DTC advertisements provide meaningful information to patients and promote communication between patients and physicians, they also appear to exaggerate benefits while making procedures appear simple and without risks, suggesting trained medical professionals are not needed to perform procedures. 

“Not only do DTC advertisements urge patients to actively seek information about products after viewing them, but they also encourage discussion between patients and physicians, however these commercials occasionally create a dichotomy between providing patient education and misinformation,” explained corresponding author Neelam Vashi, MD, associate professor of dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine and director of the Boston University Cosmetic and Laser Center at Boston Medical Center.

In 2016, drug companies spent $9.6 billion on DTC advertisements and the typical American was exposed to an average of nine drug advertisements daily. Only a few studies have been conducted to examine the impact of DTC advertisements on cosmetic procedures, however little research exists about cosmetic procedures ads and the inclusion of health risk information with regards to how they impact consumer opinions.

A total of 203 participants were recruited from dermatology clinics at an urban academic medical center to view two DTC advertisements. Questionnaires were administered to assess opinions towards cosmetic procedures both before and after the viewing.

After watching the advertisements, the researchers found an 18.8 percent and 24.6 percent increase in participants reporting a desire to view commercials as an information source and seeking out additional medical knowledge, respectively. Also after watching the advertisements, there was a 14.4 percent increase in participants who believed advertisements facilitate better discussions between patients and physicians and a 33 percent increase in patients reporting they would discuss the procedures with their doctors.  Sixty percent of participants felt the advertisements did not provide enough information about the possible risks of the product while 39.4 percent believed a physician was not required to perform cosmetic procedures.

Vashi stresses that it is important to educate patients that cosmetic procedures are not, in fact, simple and risk free and should be performed by board-certified individuals who are properly educated and trained.

These findings appear online in the journal Dermatologic Surgery.


Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.