Theoretical Background and research questions/hypothesis: Prescription drug advertising, which is prevalent in oncology, can impact patient-physician interactions. Research has shown that including quantitative information about drug benefits and risks into direct-to-consumer (DTC) ads can increase consumer understanding. However, some presentations of quantitative information may be more useful than others. For example, including graphs can improve understanding. Our objective was to determine whether and how quantitative information about drug benefits and risks is presented to consumers and healthcare professionals on cancer-related prescription drug websites.
Methods: We conducted a content analysis, reviewing 65 active cancer-related prescription drug websites in 2014. We assessed the inclusion and presentation of quantitative information for two audiences (consumers and healthcare professionals) and two types of information (drug benefit and risk).
Results: All but one website (98.5%) presented some quantitative information. This information was more likely to appear on webpages directed at healthcare professionals (98.5%) compared to webpages directed at consumers (72.3%), p < 0.001. Overall, websites were equally likely to present quantitative information for benefits (96.9%) and risks (95.4%). However, the amount of the information differed significantly; both consumer-directed and healthcare professional-directed webpages were more likely to have quantitative information for all benefits (consumer: 38.5%; healthcare professional: 86.1%) compared to all risks (consumer: 3.1%; healthcare professional: 6.2%), p < 0.001. The numeric and graphic presentation of the quantitative information also differed by audience and information type.
Conclusions: Through prescription drug websites, consumers and healthcare professionals have access to quantitative information about oncology drugs, and in particular about the benefits of these drugs. Drug benefits were communicated using a wide variety of formats, including graphs.
Implications for research and/or practice: Healthcare professionals should be aware that this information is available to patients and prepared to discuss this information as part of the decision-making process regarding cancer-related prescription drugs. Moreover, they should be aware of the quantitative information available to them to aid safe prescribing while keeping a critical eye on the amount and type of information presented.