Canadian medical journals lead way in drug ads, study finds

January 14, 2014, University of Alberta

(Medical Xpress)—Canadian medical journals feature five times more pharmaceutical ads than journals in the United States and Britain, according to a new study involving a Rhodes Scholar from the University of Alberta.

Peter Gill, a at the U of A, was a co-author of the article with an international team of researchers while attending Oxford University on his Rhodes Scholarship. The team monitored print editions of six general medical journals between 2007 and 2012. They concluded that, although the drug advertisements generate little revenue for the journals, they may potentially influence readers and undermine the publication's credibility.

"Pharmaceutical may influence prescribing behaviour by providing physicians with information about a medication or device that affects the choice of medication used for patient care," said Gill.

"For example, if a physician is planning on starting a patient on a class of medications where each medication in the class works similarly, they decide to use the one they recently saw an ad for in a journal that suggested it was more effective than the competitor."

The study showed that some issues of Canadian Family Physician contained more drug ads than edited content. The researchers suggest could eliminate the advertisements altogether by modestly increasing subscription rates.

"Studies cited in our paper suggest that up to one-third of contain misleading information," stated Gill. "Therefore, removing these from journals would reduce the potential for misleading information."

However, he said it's difficult to speculate how removing the ads could have an impact on the Canadian health-care system or on future prescribing behaviour.

The research team examined journals with the highest readerships: the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Canadian Family Physician, the Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, the British Medical Journal and the New England Journal of Medicine.

Explore further: TV drug ads: The whole truth?

More information: Gettings J, O'Neill B, Chokshi DA, Colbert JA, Gill P, et al. (2014) Differences in the Volume of Pharmaceutical Advertisements between Print General Medical Journals. PLoS ONE 9(1): e84790. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0084790

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