BY JOSEPH T. BARR, OD, MS, FAAO, EDITOR
Irecall consumer advertising starting in the contact lens field in the early 1980s. At that time, many practitioners were appalled at such crass behavior by manufacturers. Soon, contact lens practitioners learned that this advertising drove patients into their offices. Practitioners were more accepting once they realized that they could educate the patient about what they thought was best when they didn't like the advertised product. Then "free trial" disposable lenses were advertised, and practitioners were upset again. This concern subsided as time went by, and practitioners realized that most patients didn't expect everything for free.
In the October issue of Optometry (formerly the Journal of the American Optometric Association), Kenneth Myers, OD, PhD, summarizes direct-to-consumer advertising by pharmaceutical companies. It turns out such advertising began in the early 1980s for prescription drugs as well. In the past decade, consumer advertising has grown from less than $100 million to over a billion dollars per year. Dr. Myers points out that these ads began soon after the FTC encouraged advertising by professionals to improve education of the public.
In recent years, the FDA has been very concerned about how consumer ads were presented on television, which is why you now hear all the rare side effects along with the antihistamine promotions. There is no doubt the advertising is effective. Patients ask for specific products and more often than not get them. This creates both an opportunity and a burden for the practitioner to educate the patient about the benefits and risks of the product, device or medication. Both the practitioner and the manufacturer carry a burden to inform the patient of risks when using the regulated contact lens devices.
There is little doubt that the low utilization rates of today's daily disposable and extended/continuous wear contact lenses will lead to high rates of consumer advertising of these modalities in the next few years. The former is the healthiest way to wear contact lenses, and the latter is the most convenient for patients. These are benefits that the practitioner and patient desire in contact lenses. But manufacturers must go to the consumer to move the practitioners out of their current comfort zone of not using these devices regularly, which is probably less than patients would desire. Manufacturers have invested so much to bring these products to the market, and they must drive the prescribing of these modalities. We all will assume the burden of offering the patient our guidance on the best and proper use of these devices with the associated benefits and risks. If we inform our patients and document this information well, we can rest easy knowing the benefits will be maximized and the risks minimized.