Playing Doctor

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - 8:27am

Are prescription drug ads prompting patients to self diagnose?

A study done by Consumer Reports shows one in five people go into a doctor's office asking for a prescription, by name, before ever being diagnosed.

Commercials and magazine ads for specific drugs are everywhere.

Drug manufacturers spend billions of dollars each year to make sure you know their product and what it can do, but those ads never mention the cheaper and sometimes more effective generic counterparts.

Dr. Michael Gerdis says most of his patients come in with a preconceived notion of what prescription will rid them of their ailments.

"We see that frequently," he says. "We have a host of patients everyday that come in and request brand names of medications."

They don't always leave with what they ask for.

"Sometimes the medication they recommend is appropriate for what they're suffering from, but if not, I can guide them to a therapy more appropriate," he says.

There is a benefit to the ads.

Many people with symptoms may not have known there was a medicine available to relieve it.

"When they see there's a commercial they get to know, 'Ok, these are symptoms I'm having. Maybe I should go see a physician," says Dr. Malathi Shanmugam.

Then there are the drugs no one is doing commercials for: Generics.

In most cases, generic drugs can cost up to eighty percent less than brand names, but your doctor knows best which you should go with.

"The only difference I've seen is, like with the brand name they add two or three medications together, which is good for patients because they don't have to take two or three medications," says Dr. Shanmugam. "Otherwise I don't think it makes much difference."

Recent Consumer Reports studies found forty percent of consumers have a fear of generic drugs, believing them not to be as safe or as effective.

"There are some cases where patients will respond better to the brand than generics, but you have to take patient condition, overwhelmingly patients find generic drugs provide as good care as brand names," says Dr. Gerdis.

Before you fill your next prescription, compare.

Consumer Reports has a website where they rate effectiveness of brand name drugs side-by-side with their generic counterparts.

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