AMA’s Big News

The American Medical Association is calling for a ban on drug ads. How might this impact medical meetings?


If I had a file called “It Happened at a Meeting,” it would be bulging.  I’d tuck into it big-deal examples like medical and scientific breakthroughs and peace agreements and small initiatives that nonetheless affect our everyday lives — all arrived at, agreed upon, and announced at a face-to-face event. Something just came out of the Interim Meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA), held this past week, Nov. 14-17 in Atlanta, that falls into that latter category — depending on what happens next.

The meeting participants — several hundred U.S. physicians —  issued a statement calling for a ban on direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising for prescription drug and medical devices. The United States is one of only two countries allowing for DTC drug ads (New Zealand is the other). There’s a lot of money at stake: Pharma companies have increased their DTC advertising dollars by 30 percent in the last two years, spending $4.5 billion in 2014, according to the statement.

Physicians are concerned that the ads drive demand for expensive treatments when less costly and equally effective alternative drugs already exist. In addition, doctors say that they are having to spend too much time clearing up patient misperceptions resulting from the ads. “We want to spend our time diagnosing and treating patients, not rebutting marketing claims,” said Michael Miller, a delegate from the Wisconsin Medical Society, according to a Bloomberg report. 

Such a ban would require an act of Congress, but by announcing this policy and putting the full weight of the country’s largest medical group toward advocacy efforts, the AMA is taking a big step.

How might this affect medical meetings? If the AMA is successful in lobbying for a ban on DTC advertising, might some of those billions of dollars be funneled instead into direct-to-physician marketing and education (including healthcare conventions)? Or do the current pharma codes have a chokehold on such spending? It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.