Are Disease Awareness Links on Prescription Drug Websites Misleading? A Randomized Study
We sought to determine whether links from branded prescription drug websites to websites containing disease information mislead participants about drug benefits and whether nonsponsorship disclosures diminish this potential effect. We randomly assigned online panelists with depression (N=1,071) to view a fictitious prescription drug website that had (a) no link to a disease information website (control), (b) a link with no disclosure, (c) a link with a simple nonsponsorship disclosure, or (d) a link with a detailed nonsponsorship disclosure. If participants in the link conditions did not click the link, they were returned to the drug website and encouraged to click it. All participants then completed an online questionnaire assessing recall, perceptions, and intentions. Few participants (12%) clicked the link without prompting; 67% did so when prompted. Compared with control participants, participants in link conditions were more likely to confuse disease information with drug benefits and to recall fewer true drug benefits. Disclosures did not diminish these effects, and exposure to disease information did not affect other perceptions or intentions. Consumers seem to confuse information on disease websites with information on branded prescription drug websites. Disclosures may not adequately help consumers to distinguish between the 2 types of information.