Buyer Beware: Direct-to-Consumer Marketing Not Backed by Science


With the immense digital shift over the past few decades, the number of direct-to-consumer online companies has skyrocketed. Today, online markets are saturated with products and claims yet to be studied scientifically or regulated by the FDA, but are positioned to entice consumers. Three studies highlighting the importance of buyers being aware of these false claims, specifically in the direct-to-consumer marketing of erectile dysfunction or male infertility supplements, were presented during the 2021 American Urological Association (AUA) Annual Meeting. This virtual press session, moderated by Dr. Petar Bajic, is now available for viewing.

Abstracts presented:

Publication # MP36-13
Trends in Marketing, Pricing and Deployment of Shockwave Therapy for Erectile Dysfunction in U.S. Major Metropolitan Cities

The authors of this study sought to evaluate trends in marketing and implementation of shockwave therapy as a restorative treatment for erectile dysfunction in large metropolitan areas by investigating cost to patients, provider credentials and treatment protocols. Due to the increasing prevalence of erectile dysfunction and pronounced distress for patients, the shockwave therapy market has been largely dominated by GainsWave, a practitioner database and marketing platform that promotes the efficacy of shockwave therapy, despite limited evidence to support its claim.

Key findings include:

  • Patients are frequently seeking care for erectile dysfunction from non-urologists and more non-physician providers offer shockwave therapy than providers who completed training in urology.
  • Direct-to-consumer marketing is used to target distressed men, often with contradicting claims about the mechanism of therapy and the rates of cure. This is a concerning trend in major metropolitan markets, given the substantial financial impact for patients and inconsistent credentials among providers.
  • Across 7 of the most populous cities in the United States, 60 clinics offered shockwave therapy as treatment for erectile dysfunction and only 60 percent of clinics provided comprehensive information.

Publication # MP36-05
Contemporary Cost-Analysis Comparison of Direct-to-Consumer vs. Traditional Prescriptions of PDE5 Inhibitors

Consumers are now purchasing PDE5 inhibitors from online direct-to-consumer healthcare companies. The authors of this study sought to quantify the cost of phosphodiesterase inhibitors from online direct-to-consumer healthcare companies compared to a traditional physician visits and local pharmacy prescription fulfillment.

Key findings include:

  • Local pharmacies, in conjunction with online coupons, consistently provide a markedly less expensive option for fulfillment of PDEI prescriptions than online direct-to-consumer companies.
  • Less expensive options are most pronounced if a patient has flexibility in where he fills his prescription and can use the available local price.
  • Even including the cost of a physician visit, the traditional pharmacy was still less expensive than direct-to-consumer companies.

Publication # MP31-18
Online Male Infertility Supplements: A Growing Market Without Growing Evidence

The authors of this study examined the current online market for male infertility supplements and evaluated the clinical evidence of their ingredients. Amazon, Google Shopping and Walmart search engines were queried for currently available male infertility supplements and customer reviews, supplement costs, claims and ingredient information were collected.

Key findings include:

  • Patients should be warned of the large number of male infertility products on the market that have little to no evidence of improving fertility and may increase the burden of cost on patients who may eventually require artificial reproductive technology.
  • Male infertility supplements include ingredients that have not been found to have the advertised effect or have never been tested in human trials.
  • 70% of products claimed to improve sperm motility; 63% claimed to increase sperm count; and 12% claimed to increase the chance of conceiving.

“Today’s consumer is faced with an abundance of information and advertising that promotes a wide range of treatments, medicines and alternative therapies,” Dr. Bajic said. “This information is not always easily navigable by patients and, in some cases, may be misleading. It’s more important than ever to have conversations with your doctor about information found online.”

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