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Keywords:

  • media;
  • communication;
  • hypertension;
  • calcium channel blockers

BACKGROUND: Disclosure of medical research results to the public creates tension between lay medical reporters and the medical profession.

OBJECTIVE: To explore the early effect of media attention on the risks associated with short-acting calcium channel blockers (CCBs) for treating hypertension after publication at a national meeting and following publication.

DESIGN: Time-series analysis of prescription claims data.

SETTING AND DATA SOURCE: National third-party pharmaceutical benefits manager.

PATIENTS: Employed or retired persons and their families, 18 years of age or older, receiving prescription benefits from 1 of 4 national companies that contracted with the pharmaceutical benefits manager exclusively for prescription drug coverage.

MEASUREMENTS: Prescription claims for antihypertensive drugs by fill date converted to a percentage of all cardiovascular drug claims. Data were grouped into weekly intervals before and immediately after the national release of negative information about CCBs on March 10, 1995 and following publication of the results on August 23, 1995.

RESULTS: The most prevalent antihypertensive drugs were diuretics (21% of cardiovascular prescription claims) and calcium channel blockers (19%). A 10% decline in prescriptions filled for CCBs occurred 4 weeks following the intense media attention. Only prescriptions for long-acting calcium channel blockers declined. Alpha-1-blocker prescriptions increased by approximately the same amount that prescriptions for CCBs declined, suggesting substitution of one drug for the other. Changes in diuretic or β-blocker prescriptions filled were not statistically significant. No immediate change in other cardiovascular drug classes occurred following journal publication.

CONCLUSIONS: Intense media publicity regarding a controversial study measurably and unpredictably changed prescription claims.