Balloons, Bayer, and blood clots: [mis]communication of risk in birth control messages

Direct to Consumer Advertising (DTCA) has flooded media channels since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted pharmaceutical companies the ability to advertise medications to patients in the 1980’s. This has altered how patients receive information about prescription drugs. Instead of medications being vetted and suggested by physicians, patients are requesting medications after interactions with pharmaceutical companies through advertisements. The transference of medications as need-based goods prescribed based upon the evaluation and recommendation of experts, to preference-based goods which patients can research and request from their physicians, is vital in understanding how patients perceive the risks and benefits associated with these medications. This thesis explores the role of DTCA in patient belief change and subsequent intention to take a medication, with particular focus on messages of risk about birth control pills. The framework with which the study analyzes belief and intention change is Icek Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behavior. A survey-based experiment was performed to assess women’s beliefs and intentions after being exposed to an advertisement with a message of risk, the same advertisement with the message of risk removed, or no message. Future research may explore further the relationships between the types of risk messages and their influence on patient beliefs and intentions.