Journal advertising is used by pharmaceutical companies to disseminate medicine information to doctors. The quality of claims, references and the presentation of risk results in Australia and the US has been questioned in several studies. No recent evidence is available on the quality of claims, references and the presentation of risk results in journal advertising in Australia and the US and no Malaysian data have been published. The aim of this study was to compare the quality of claims, references and the presentation of risk results in journal advertising in these three countries.
A consecutive sample of 85 unique advertisements from each country was selected from journal advertising published between January 2004 to December 2006. Claims, references and the presentation of risk results in medical journal advertising were compared between the three countries.
Less than one-third of the claims were unambiguous claims (Australia, 30%, Malaysia 17%, US, 23%). In Malaysia significantly less unambiguous claims were provided than in Australia and the US (P < 0.001). However, the unambiguous claims were supported by more references than other claims (80%). Most evidence was obtained from at least one randomized controlled trial, a systematic review or meta-analysis (Australia, 84%, Malaysia, 81%, US, 76%) with journal articles being the most commonly cited references in all countries. Data on file were significantly more likely to be cited in the US (17%) than in Australia (2%) and Malaysia (4%) (P < 0.001). Advertisements that provided quantitative information reported risk results exclusively as a relative risk reduction
The majority of claims were vague suggesting poor quality of claims in journal advertising in these three countries. Evidence from a randomized controlled trial, systematic review or meta- analysis was commonly cited to support claims. However, the more frequent use of data that have not been published and independently reviewed in the US compared to Australia and Malaysia raises questions on the quality of references in the US. The use of relative rather than absolute benefits may overemphasize the benefit of medicines which may leave doctors susceptible to misinterpreting information.