Boston—Pharmacists might have noticed an uptick in prescriptions for oral minoxidil late last summer. A new report found the proximate cause was not due to major new research but instead media coverage.

A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open advised, "Media coverage of health-related news may be associated with changes in clinician practices and patient behaviors. Evidence on the association of social media with these behaviors remains limited, however, despite increased interest in health-related news during the COVID-19 pandemic."

On August 18, 2022, The New York Times (NYT) published an article describing how several dermatologists had successful treatment experiences with oral versus topical minoxidil for hair loss. In addition, the results of a small observational study of women with hair loss were reported.

The study team led by Harvard Medical School researchers used prescription drug data to analyze changes in prescribing of oral minoxidil after the article, which was widely covered by other news outlets and went viral on social media.

The cross-sectional study identified adults prescribed oral minoxidil from January 1, 2021, to December 1, 2022, in the Truveta database, which holds electronic health records from U.S. member healthcare systems. The patients who were included were treated in eight health systems, primarily resided in 13 states, and received first-time oral minoxidil before (January to July 2022) or after (August to December 2022) publication of the NYT article.

The study team calculated the weekly rate of first-time oral minoxidil prescriptions (the number of prescriptions/outpatient encounters/week) for 2.5-mg and 5-mg tablets. Excluded were 10-mg tablets used for hypertension.

The analysis compared oral minoxidil with first-time, low-dose finasteride hair loss medication (5-mg doses, which treat benign prostatic hyperplasia, were excluded) and antihypertensive medications because minoxidil has antihypertensive effects.

Of the 6,541 patients with first-time oral minoxidil prescriptions—who were 41.0% male and approximately one-third who were aged 45 to 64 years—2,846 received prescriptions in the 7 months prior to the publication and 3,695 individuals in the 5 months after the publication, respectively. The group was 65.2% white, 12.5% black, 10.2% Hispanic, and 7.5% Asian.

"The proportion of males (43.6% vs. 37.7%) and white individuals (68.6% vs. 60.8%) was higher after versus before publication," the authors wrote. "The proportion of individuals with comorbidities was lower after versus before publication (diabetes: 16.0% vs. 22.1%; chronic kidney disease: 14.4% vs. 22.3%; hypertension, 38.3% vs. 46.7%)."

Furthermore, the weekly rate of first-time minoxidil prescriptions per 10,000 outpatient encounters was significantly higher 8 weeks after versus 8 weeks before article publication overall (0.9 prescriptions [95% CI, 0.8-1.0 prescriptions] vs. 0.5 prescriptions [95% CI, 0.4-0.6 prescriptions]; P <.001). That was also the case for males (1.1 prescriptions [95% CI, 0.9-1.3 prescriptions] vs. 0.5 prescriptions [95% CI, 0.4-0.6 prescriptions], a 2.4-fold increase; P <.001) and females (0.8 prescriptions [95% CI, 0.7-0.9 prescriptions] vs. 0.5 prescriptions [95% CI, 0.4-0.6 prescriptions], a 1.7-fold increase; P <.001).

After the initial increase that was apparently associated with article publication, prescriptions declined overall and for both men and women. The authors stated they did not observe similar increases in first-time finasteride or hypertension prescriptions.

"This cross-sectional study found that after a newspaper publication describing the use of low-dose oral minoxidil to treat hair loss, there was an immediate increase in prescribing. Importantly, the article did not report new research findings or large-scale randomized evidence," the researchers pointed out. "Our findings suggest that media coverage alone, even without new research or with limited evidence, may be associated with immediate changes in prescribing, although they may not be sustained."

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

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