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PLOS ONE  2009 

Quality of Pharmaceutical Advertisements in Medical Journals: A Systematic Review

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006350

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Background Journal advertising is one of the main sources of medicines information to doctors. Despite the availability of regulations and controls of drug promotion worldwide, information on medicines provided in journal advertising has been criticized in several studies for being of poor quality. However, no attempt has been made to systematically summarise this body of research. We designed this systematic review to assess all studies that have examined the quality of pharmaceutical advertisements for prescription products in medical and pharmacy journals. Methods and Findings Studies were identified via searching electronic databases, web library, search engine and reviewing citations (1950 – February 2006). Only articles published in English and examined the quality of information included in pharmaceutical advertisements for prescription products in medical or pharmacy journals were included. For each eligible article, a researcher independently extracted the data on the study methodology and outcomes. The data were then reviewed by a second researcher. Any disagreements were resolved by consensus. The data were analysed descriptively. The final analysis included 24 articles. The studies reviewed advertisements from 26 countries. The number of journals surveyed in each study ranged from four to 24 journals. Several outcome measures were examined including references and claims provided in advertisements, availability of product information, adherence to codes or guidelines and presentation of risk results. The majority of studies employed a convenience-sampling method. Brand name, generic name and indications were usually provided. Journal articles were commonly cited to support pharmaceutical claims. Less than 67% of the claims were supported by a systematic review, a meta-analysis or a randomised control trial. Studies that assessed misleading claims had at least one advertisement with a misleading claim. Two studies found that less than 28% of claims were unambiguous clinical claims. Most advertisements with quantitative information provided risk results as relative risk reduction. Studies were conducted in 26 countries only and then the generalizability of the results is limited. Conclusions Evidence from this review indicates that low quality of journal advertising is a global issue. As information provided in journal advertising has the potential to change doctors' prescribing behaviour, ongoing efforts to increase education about drug promotion are crucial. The results from our review suggest the need for a global pro-active and effective

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