DTC Television ads and drug adverse event reporting: Does one lead to another?

August 15, 2014

Do television ads for prescription drugs affect people’s behavior in reporting adverse events? Do they ultimately stimulate, suppress or not affect the reporting behavior?

To answer this question, we have designed a quick and dirty experiment using our MedWatcher Social platform. MedWatcher Social monitors social media for posts that mention side effects from health products, which we call ‘Proto-AEs’. Proto-AEs associated with Oxytrol (oxybutinin), an OTC skin patch for female incontinence, and Eliquis (apixaban), a prescription drug for atrial fibrillation, were collected from Twitter and Facebook between March 8, 2013 and June 17, 2014. Oxytrol is mostly aired at daytime and evening news hours, while Eliquis targets audiences at primetime. We compared the timing of those ads with the frequency of posts and Proto-AEs. The result is shown below.

Oxytrol (oxybutinin)










Eliquis (apixaban)










One clear message from the data is that people talked more about the drugs generally during hours when their ads were aired. On the other hand, there was no obvious increase in the proportion of Proto-AEs compared with the post volume. Considering that, on average, only 2% of posts will be categorized as proto-AEs, a longer study time may be needed in order to accumulate enough AEs to show statistically significant association.

One interesting discovery from these two graphs is the difference between the two drugs in the percentage of the reposted/retweeted messages among all posts.



In this case, the drug itself seems to be a predominate contributing factor of the reposting behavior. One possible reason is that coupons on Over-The-Counter Oxytrol get retweeted repeatedly by connected users, while there are no such retweets for Eliquis, a prescription drug. Difference in gender composition of the two drugs’ user populations could also be a contributing factor.