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Keywords:

  • Direct-to-consumer advertising;
  • patients;
  • consumers;
  • rights;
  • consumerism;
  • prescription drugs;
  • regulation;
  • Food and Drug Administration;
  • pharmaceutical industry

Direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of prescription drugs in the United States is controversial. Underlying the debate are disagreements over the role of consumers in medical decision making, the appropriateness of consumers engaging in self-diagnosis, and the ethics of an industry promoting potentially dangerous drugs. Drug advertising and federal policy governing drug advertising have both responded to and reinforced changes in the consumer's role in health care and in the doctor-patient relationship over time. This article discusses the history of DTCA in the context of social movements to secure rights for health care patients and consumers, the modern trend toward consumer-oriented medicine, and the implications of DTCA and consumer-oriented medicine for contemporary health policy debates about improving the health care system.