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Drug Promotional Items Affect Medical Students’ Preference

Last Updated: May 12, 2009.

Medical students who are exposed to small branded promotional items from pharmaceutical companies may be more likely to hold favorable views of the advertised drug. However, the opposite effect may occur among students who attend schools with restrictive policies toward pharmaceutical marketing, according to a study published in the May 11 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

TUESDAY, May 12 (HealthDay News) -- Medical students who are exposed to small branded promotional items from pharmaceutical companies may be more likely to hold favorable views of the advertised drug. However, the opposite effect may occur among students who attend schools with restrictive policies toward pharmaceutical marketing, according to a study published in the May 11 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

David Grande, M.D., of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and colleagues conducted a controlled experiment in which 352 third- and fourth-year medical students were randomly and unknowingly assigned to exposure or non-exposure to Lipitor®-branded clipboards and notepaper and then surveyed about their attitudes toward Lipitor®. Half of the students attended the University of Miami, which has a lenient policy toward pharmaceutical marketing, and half attended the University of Pennsylvania, which has a more restrictive policy.

Among fourth-year students who were exposed to the branded items, the researchers found that those at the University of Miami had more favorable attitudes toward Lipitor® than controls (Implicit Association Test effect: 0.66 versus 0.47) while those at the University of Pennsylvania had less favorable attitudes toward the drug than controls (Implicit Association Test effect: 0.22 versus 0.52). They did not observe any significant group differences among third-year students.

"Our results provide evidence that subtle branding exposures are important and influential, as the psychology and marketing literature would suggest," the authors conclude. "Our findings are particularly notable because they are attributable to simple exposure to promotional items independent of other effects attributable to the social relationships associated with gifts."

One co-author reported financial relationships with several pharmaceutical companies.

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