BACKGROUND: Consumers and primary care physicians (PCPs) sometimes encounter deceptive promotional claims about prescription drugs. Whether consumers and PCPs can detect deceptive claims or whether those claims negatively affect medical decision making, however, remain important, unanswered research questions.
OBJECTIVES: This article explores (1) the ability of consumers and PCPs to identify deceptive prescription drug promotion at various levels of deception, (2) the influence of such tactics on obstructing risk recognition, and (3) whether perceived deception mediates relationships between exposure to deceptive tactics and various outcomes (including false-claim acceptance, attitudes, information-seeking intentions, and interest toward the promoted drug).
METHODS: Two experiments-1 with consumers (N = 366) and 1 with PCPs (N = 378)-were conducted to determine whether participant exposure to deceptive prescription drug website content corresponds to detection and acceptance (or rejection) of claims and tactics. In each experiment, the number of deceptive claims and tactics on a consumer- or PCP-targeted website for a fictitious chronic pain medication were varied, in a 1 × 3 (none, fewer, more) between-subjects design.
RESULTS: Among consumers, exposure to more deceptive claims or tactics did not increase suspicion about the veracity of the website (relative to fewer claims and tactics) and actually had a limited positive direct effect on false-claim acceptance and attitudes toward the drug. Among PCPs, a mediation effect existed such that exposure to more deceptive claims and tactics resulted in higher perceived website deceptiveness relative to those in the fewer deceptive claims condition, which, in turn, resulted in lower acceptance of deceptive claims and tactics, lower perceived drug effectiveness, more negative attitudes toward the drug, and lower interest and intentions.
CONCLUSION: These experiments demonstrate potential differences between consumers and PCPs as well as implications for consumer and PCP vulnerability to website deception.