Pharmaceutical Advertising in Emergency Departments

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Objectives: Promotion of prescription drugs represents a growing source of pharmaceutical marketing expenditures. This study was undertaken to identify the frequency of items containing pharmaceutical advertising in clinical emergency departments (EDs). Methods: In this observational study, emergency physician on-site investigators quantified a variety of items containing pharmaceutical advertising present at specified representative times and days, in clinical EDs. Results: Measurements were obtained by 65 on-site investigators, representing 22 states. Most EDs in this study were community EDs (87% community and 14% university or university affiliate), and most were in urban settings (50% urban, 38% suburban, and 13% rural). Investigators measured 42 items per ED (mean = 42; median = 31; interquartile range of 14–55) containing pharmaceutical advertising in the clinical area. The most commonly observed items included pens (mean 15 per ED; median 10), product brochures (mean 5; median 3), stethoscope labels (mean 4; median 2), drug samples (mean 3; median 0), books (mean 3.4), mugs (mean 2.4), and published literature (mean 3.1). EDs with a policy restricting pharmaceutical representatives in the ED had significantly fewer items containing pharmaceutical advertising (median 7.5; 95% CI = 0 to 27) than EDs without such a policy (median 35; 95% CI = 27 to 47, p = 0.005, nonparametric Wilcoxon two-sample test). There were no differences in quantities of pharmaceutical advertising for EDs in community compared with university settings (p = 0.5), rural compared with urban settings (p = 0.3), or annual ED volumes (p = 0.9). Conclusions: Numerous items containing pharmaceutical advertising are frequently observed in EDs. Policies restricting pharmaceutical representatives in the ED are associated with reduced pharmaceutical advertising.