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Medical Marketing Grew More than $10 Billion Since 1997

Medical Marketing Grew More than $10 Billion Since 1997

Hal Conick

assorted colorful pills

Direct-to-consumer ads for health services and prescription drugs have grown most rapidly, from $2.1 billion to $9.6 billion.

Medical marketers increased their spending by more than $10 billion from 1997 to 2016, according to a recent study published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Spending increased from $17.7 billion to $29.9 billion.

The study—titled Medical Marketing in the United States, 1997-2016—found that the most rapid increases in spending came from direct-to-consumer advertising for health services and prescription drugs. Spending on these ads rose from $2.1 billion to $9.6 billion.

Direct-to-consumer drug advertising went from $1.3 billion in 1997, which accounted for 79,000 ads, to $6 billion in 2016, accounting for 4.6 million ads—including 663,000 commercials on TV.


Direct-to-consumer ads for health services also saw a big increase, from $542 million to $2.9 billion.

Most promotional spending was spent in marketing pharmaceuticals to health professionals, increasing from $15.6 billion to $20.3 billion. The number of consumer and professional drug promotional materials increased from approximately 34,000 to 97,000, the authors write.

FDA violation letters for misleading drug marketing dropped from 156 to 11 during this time period.

“Observational studies suggest that detailing and samples influence prescribing and raise costs by promoting expensive newer brand-name drugs rather than equally effective, less-expensive alternative products or nondrug choices,” the authors write.

Near the end of their report, the authors say that better oversight of the industry is needed. Although the Office of Prescription Drug Promotion—a branch of the Food and Drug Administration—monitors promotional exhibits and activities at major medical meetings and conventions, they don’t monitor speaker presentations, visits or meals.

“If OPDP cannot monitor promotional activities for drugs with important public health risks,” the authors write, “a detailing ban might need to be considered.”

Hal Conick is a freelance writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @HalConick.