Drugs: As Seen on TV

"Direct-to-consumer advertising - on which pharmaceutical companies spend roughly $3 billion a year - can trump medical need in influencing how doctors prescribe drugs," concludes a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. For the study, actresses posed as patients with mild depression and either asked about a specific antidepressant, based on TV ads; asked about medications in general; or just described their symptoms. Doctors "were five times more likely to write them prescriptions," if the patient asked for a specific drug. However, patients received the best care when they asked about medications in general. In response, the industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America stated that drug ads increase "patient awareness, allowing more people to get proper diagnoses and drugs."