'Get with the Program!': pharmaceutical marketing, symptom checklists and self-diagnosis

Soc Sci Med. 2011 Sep;73(6):825-32. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.05.054. Epub 2011 Jul 26.


During more than a decade of direct-to-consumer advertising (DTC) of pharmaceuticals in the United States, several highly controversial and contested disease states have been promoted to affect diagnostic and prescribing outcomes that are favorable to a company's branded drug. Influencing medical diagnosis is essential to the branding of a disease, which helps to protect pharmaceutical intellectual property and assures higher profits for drug companies. Enormous marketing as well as medical resources are deployed to ensure that new diagnoses of disease states are recognized. While much work has been done investigating the marketing processes necessary to shape and define diagnoses for many of these new disease states, such as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), the promotion of self-diagnosis within pharmaceutical marketing campaigns garner little sociological attention. This article reviews and analyzes branded disease awareness campaigns sponsored by pharmaceutical companies that employ self-diagnostic "tools". By using the example of one specific disease state, PMDD, I illustrate how the marketing of self-diagnosis transforms the patient into a consumer in order to achieve the aims of a drug company. This example is contextualized within the larger theoretical framework on the sociology of diagnosis. Consideration is given to how the marketing of self-diagnosis goes beyond Jutel's (2009) description of diagnosis as being the "classification tool of medicine" and becomes a marketing tool to construct a well-educated consumer who will demand medical diagnoses inline with a drug company's objectives.

MeSH terms

  • Checklist*
  • Diagnosis*
  • Diagnostic Self Evaluation*
  • Drug Industry / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Marketing of Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Premenstrual Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Premenstrual Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Premenstrual Syndrome / psychology
  • Sociology, Medical
  • United States