Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) Advertising of Prescription Medications on the World Wide Web: Assessing the Communication of Risks and Benefits.

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Title: Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) Advertising of Prescription Medications on the World Wide Web: Assessing the Communication of Risks and Benefits.
Author: Vigilante, William John Jr.
Advisors: Michael S. Wogalter, Chair
Sharolyn A. Converse, member
Stanley R. Dicks, member
Manoochehr N. Javidi, member
Abstract: Recently, pharmaceutical manufacturers have begun using direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertisements to convey prescription medication information directly to consumers. The current research explores several factors that may influence the communication of risk and benefit information in DTC advertisements on the World Wide Web (WWW). Specifically, this study focused on the effects of integrating and separating risk and benefit information at different levels of a DTC prescription medication advertisement web site hierarchy. The study also examined how risk/benefit information placement was affected by a user's information processing objective (IPO) or task type. IPO was manipulated by requiring participants to either perform a general browsing task or a search and find task. To extend the generalizability of the results, two prescription medication DTC advertisement web sites were used in the study. Risk and benefit recall, recognition, time-on-task, amount of information found, web site click rates, and risk-noticability ratings were measured to compare the effects of integrating and separating the risk and benefit information on the same web page and on different web pages at different levels of a DTC medication advertisement web site, task type, and drug. Results from the current study indicated that risk and benefit information was found faster, with less clicks, and remembered more often when it is placed higher in the web site hierarchy, and presented in separate sections. The pattern of results for the two tasks used in the current study was similar and no significant differences were found between the two drugs. Participant ratings indicated a strong preference for risk information placed separate from other information on the home page. Finally, participants who were more experienced with surfing the web and online shopping tended to have better performance scores. The results suggest that the current U.S. Federal regulations regarding DTC prescription medication advertisements, that require a balanced presentation of risk and benefit information, do not account for the effects of other variables such as information accessibility and placement. The lack of information placement guidelines can result in risk and benefit information placement on DTC prescription medication web sites that hinder a consumer's ability to find and read important drug information. Finally, the study provides a list of guidelines that can be used in the development of a DTC prescription medication web site: present separate risk and benefit information sections; present risk and benefits on the top half of a drug's home page; if required, place the risks on a second level page with a prominent link placed in the top half of a drug's home page; consistently place important drug information across web site advertisements; use simple wording and grammar to describe important information; employ basic web usability techniques to evaluate the design of all prescription medication web sites to ensure that important drug information is easily noticed, read, and remembered.
Date: 2001-08-06
Degree: PhD
Discipline: Psychology

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