Medicines Australia Advertising Code. Has the digital horse bolted?

According to Friday’s edition of Pharma in Focus, “There has been widespread frustration from industry that the prescriptive nature of Medicines Australia’s Advertising Code has made it, with the rise of digital communications, outdated, complicated and often superfluous.”

This is a question I’ve been grappling with for a while now as I produce password-protected materials for medical professionals while their patients resort to the dubious Dr Google for information about medicines and conditions.

The Code prohibits promotion of prescription medicines to patients. Always has.

But in a digital world, how can this be policed — and should it be?

Don’t patients deserve access to accurate locally-sourced information about the medicines they are taking beyond the CMI and Approved Product Information?

You only have to Google a drug brand name and you’ll find a glossy US website providing resources for patients and promoting it. Often the US sites mention different indications which may not be reimbursed in Australia.

Of course, in the absence of openly available credible local sites, Facebook groups abound, covering a myriad of conditions. In these groups, patients discuss drugs, drug side effects, alternative treatments and their experiences with doctors, surgeries and hospitals. They depend on unpaid admins whose vigilance may waver, to moderate the posts and comments.

Australian patient support organisations, often recommended by doctors, want to give patients information about medicines to facilitate early access and make informed decisions about their health. Yet they’re hamstrung by the limitations of the Code.

Pharma in Focus reports that Medicines Australia’s next update to the Code will “better reflect the digital age.”

As a medical copywriter, I believe that as things stand, trying to hide prescription drug information from patients is probably doing more harm than good. It’s time to allow pharma companies to provide trustworthy local digital content (using peer-reviewed sources) for patients who seek to educate themselves about their conditions.

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