June 21st, 2011
Risk Info In Print Ads Is Not Very Comprehensible
And now, a study confirms what many people probably already knew - those brief summaries about drug side effects, contraindications and effectiveness that appear in print advertisements can be hard to fathom. Or to put it another way, “the traditional method of conveying information in the brief summary is neither the most comprehensible nor the most preferred by consumers.”
That’s the conclusion reached by a study in Medical Decision Making. The researchers asked 300 consumers who were in shopping malls and, at one time, had been told they overweight and told they needed to lose more than 15 pounds were qualified. About half were female. These people were shown four different brief summary formats as alternatives to the existing approach that usually has two pages in a publication - one contains a commercial message and the other has risk info.
What were these formats? One was traditional - there was a plain-language version of the risk sections from professional labeling). Another was a Q&A, with headings framed in the form of questions. A third was highlighted and had a summary section from revised professional labeling. The last was a facts box, which is similar to the current over-the-counter drug facts label. Each contained info about a fictitious weight-loss drug called Oncazil.
To test the participants, the researchers created two measures of risk comprehension. The first was a measure of recall and the second tested whether participants were able to apply the information in the ad. They also measured reactions to risk and benefit info; behavioral intentions; patient confidence in finding and using the info; attitudes toward the ads; patience; reading speed, and knowledge of the medical condition, among a few other things.
The upshot? The format had several effects, according to the researchers, three of whom work at the FDA, while fourth works at American University. The participants who viewed the drug facts format were better able to recall risks and reported greater confidence to perform the tasks than those who saw the traditional format.
There were also differences in preference. The drug facts format was ranked highest, followed by the Q&A format, the traditional format, and finally the highlights format (here is the abstract). “Policy makers should consider encouraging alternate formats for the brief summary,” they wrote. This one of three studies, by the way, that were designed by the FDA’s Division of Drug, Marketing, Advertising and Communications in hopes of finding ways to improve public understanding of the “brief summary” section in printed ads. The other studies are not yet published.