Models of Physician-Patient Relationships in Pharmaceutical Direct-to-Consumer Advertising and Consumer Interviews

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Qualitative Health Research


Sociology & Anthropology


The rise of direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) has mirrored, if not facilitated, the shift toward more active health care consumers. We used content analysis to identify models of physician–patient interaction in DTCA from the 1997 to 2006 issues of a broad sample of women’s, men’s, and common readership magazines. We also conducted 36 in-depth interviews to examine the ways consumers receive and regard advertising messages, and to explore their preferences for clinical communication and decision making. We identified four models of physician–patient relationships that vary in their locus of control (physician, patient, or shared) and the form of support sought or obtained in the relationship (emotional or instrumental). Whereas consumer interviews reflected references to all four models of interaction, only two appeared in DTCA. The limited range of interactions seen in these advertisements creates a lack of congruity between interaction styles found in advertisements vs. styles reported by actual consumers.