APA member chairs FDA Risk Communication Advisory Committee

Dr. Peters’ first meeting focused on direct-to-consumer advertising for pharmaceuticals

Dr. Ellen Peters was recently selected to chair the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Risk Communication Advisory Committee (RCAC) for the next 4 years. Peters had already served a two year term on the RCAC beginning in 2007 and succeeds another psychologist, APA Fellow Dr. Baruch Fischhoff, who served as the previous and inaugural chair. Five other psychologists currently serve on the 15-member Committee: APA members Valerie Reyna, Angela Fagerlin and Gavin Huntley-Fenner; and Noel Brewer and William Hallman. Peters’ first meeting as chair focused on a portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (i.e., the healthcare reform law) that asked FDA to examine aspects of numeracy in the promotion of direct-to-consumer advertising for pharmaceuticals, in order to assess how science should inform the type of quantitative information supplied in promotional materials. A second series of discussions were initiated to address recent theoretical developments on information use in decision-making and the implications for strategic communication. As such, the Committee invited two psychologists, Alan Castel and Brian Zikmund-Fisher as guest speakers and focused on two questions: Given what you've heard and know about the state of the science regarding how people process and use risk information in different types of decisions and at different stages of life, what does that suggest about how to communicate most effectively? How can we work with different abilities in gist memory and verbatim number memory to be most effective in communicating our key message?

FDA’s investment in psychological science on the RCAC is a lasting legacy to Dr. Nancy Ostrove, a psychologist who retired from FDA in 2011. Between 2007 and 2008, Dr. Ostrove led the establishment of FDA’s external RCAC, internal Risk Communication Staff Office in the Office of Planning, and internal Communications Council. She also led the development of FDA’s Strategic Plan for Risk Communication, and her staff continues to coordinate implementation of the Plan and identification of risk communication issues for consideration by the RCAC. Her initiative also lead to publication of the RCAC’s first book, titled Communicating Risks and Benefits: An Evidence-Based User's Guide, released at the end of last summer and coauthored by RCAC members Fischhoff and Brewer and fellow psychologist Julie Downs. For her career of outstanding service to health communications policy, Dr. Ostrove was awarded an APA Meritorious Research Service Commendation in 2010. 

Reflecting on her role as RCAC Chair, Peters said “Applying psychological theory can improve communications about the risks and benefits of FDA-regulated products and, ultimately, enhance the health and welfare of the American public."