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Category: Truth in Medicine

Truth in Medical Marketing and CMEs

Recently newsgroup user jkellymdmph asked a question that I had brought up when Google Co-op Health first launched:

How can this group health effort can resist infiltration by aggressive marketing?

jkellymdmph goes on to describe a continuing medical education (CME) event he attended that was supported with an unrestricted grant from a pharmaceutical company. There are two important notes in this story:

1) He thought the CME was very good, and “didn’t notice” that the supporter was a pharma company

2) … until the speaker began to tout the company’s drugs as “the best” (more…)

Supplements and When Fad meets Science

By Robert Lamberts, M.D.

The supplement industry is a huge one – Over $14 Billion in US sales in 2004 (still small compared to the over $200 Billion spent on prescription drugs in the same year), but one study showed that 6 out of 10 Americans were taking a supplement of some kind.

A recent article in the Washington Post caught my eye, casting some questions about some of the more popular supplements:

Millions of Americans who regularly take vitamins and other popular dietary supplements have had their faith in those products challenged in the past year as the substances fared poorly in several large clinical trials and a federal panel’s scientific review.

The supplements tested are widely used but few had previously been put to large-scale, well-designed clinical trials. The findings showed that some of Americans’ most trusted supplements — including some, such as multivitamins and calcium, that doctors ave recommended for decades — failed to show the benefits they were believed to offer

The difference between drugs and dietary supplements lies mainly in how they are regulated by the FDA. While drug companies cannot make any claims that the FDA has not sanctioned, supplement manufacturers are able to be much more “creative” with their information. While they can’t make bold-faced lies, they can make claims that are unable to be disproven, such as “supports a healthy immune system,” or “supports prostate health.” The FDA has little say as to what claims are made (actually the Federal Trade Commission can step in for fraudulent advertising). The same is true for the content of the medications, which must meet stringent government requirements for prescription drugs, but can have a wide range of content in supplements. (more…)

Is Common Sense Out of Touch for Society?

Shortly after Merck’s Gardasil garnered media spotlight for being an innovation against cervical cancer development, Forbes ran a story on “Condoms Protect Against Cervical Cancer.” The article concluded with an expert’s quote that our society have undoubtedly heard at least a few hundred times over the course of growing up:

“Use condoms and use them properly,” Wu said. “It’s the best form of protection against STDs [sexually transmitted diseases].”

Sounds like common sense. Condoms protect against sexually transmitted diseases, and without potential side effects from drugs. Barring allergy to latex, condoms would score high on the scale of risk-benefit ratio. (more…)

New Google Co-Op for Health

Google has created clusters of online discussion format called Co-ops.

The Co-op is about “sharing expertise” (source: Google Co-Op website), I assume from whoever feel they have expertise to share. A Google employee posted general criteria about what posts would be stricken from a Co-op group:

  • The posting of commercial advertisements or other promotional material
  • Spamming/excessive multi-posting
  • Chain letters
  • Binary (non-text) postings
  • Forgery of another user’s identity

(Source: Thread ID c603a0b6578b735a)

Currently,”significant contributors” to Google Co-Op’s Health topic National Library of Medicine, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health On The Net Foundation, Harvard Medical School, Mayo Clinic, University of California San Francisco, and Kaiser Permanente. (more…)

What Open Medicine Is and Is Not

A benefit – and side effect – of Internet culture is an embrace toward access and openness. I can access an abundance of free information on the web. I’ve always embraced open source applications, like the one used to create this website, and will continue to do so as long as it’s available.

However, a potential misconception called “Open Medicine” is a side effect of the Internet culture. I do not believe most people who advocate for “Open Medicine” on the web actually understand what “Open Medicine” really means, and all the ramifications and responsibilities that come with the term. When most speak of “Open Medicine” they refer to the idea that medical information should be freely available, transparent, and credible.

I don’t argue with the concept of making healthcare information available, transparent, and credible. After all, I created to provide Accessibility, Honesty, and Integrity in healthcare information.

What I oppose is the misconception built around Open Medicine. In my opinion, here is what Open Medicine is NOT:

Open Medicine is not a blogging network, even if the blogging network is composed of a team of doctors, nurses, scientists, other healthcare “experts”, or anyone who has a burning desire to voice an opinion about a particular healthcare trend or drug.

In considering what Open Medicine really is, we only need to look at the basic definition of “Open” as it relates to this Internet phenomenon:

The basic idea behind open source is very simple: When programmers can read, redistribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software, the software evolves. People improve it, people adapt it, people fix bugs. And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace of conventional software development, seems astonishing. Source: Open Source Initiative.

In other words, Open Medicine can work only when we are allowing access to what is considered proprietary information or intellectual property, for the expressed purpose to enable collaboration to improve and innovate upon this “open” information. (more…)

Media Hyping and Premature Promises Do Not Help

Recently, journalists picked up on a poster session on the effect of ginger on ovarian cancer cells at the 97th American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting (AACR) in Washington, DC (April 1-5, 2006). Forbes called it, “Ginger an Ovarian Cancer Killer.” The poster authors’ school, University of Michigan also sent out a press release subtitled, “Cell studies show promise for ginger as potential ovarian cancer treatment.”

This illustrates my concern of how a piece of scientific “evidence” is so preliminary, yet generates a level of sensation that is far from warranted.

I also object to U. of Michigan’s use of the word “promise” in the press release. I’d have preferred the entire subtitle replaced with the disclaimer, “Study done in petri dish – not even animals or human – please do not gorge on ginger.”

A definition of “promise” speaks to expectation of something that is likely to happen. This study is too early to speak of any promises. (more…)

Affordable Healthcare Dilemma

By Faiz Kermani

Healthcare can be an emotionally charged subject. Therefore, it comes as little surprise that most governments around the world struggle to implement a healthcare policy that is acceptable to all.

A growing component of healthcare expenditure is spending on pharmaceuticals, and this feature of medical care has received considerable attention.

Complex issues
Providing healthcare is expensive and requires ongoing investment. Governments have become alarmed at how much they must spend as their populations grow, and as demand for the newest medicines increases.

pills2.gif Furthermore, the rising elderly population and falling birth rates place a great strain on funding for public healthcare. As the elderly population grows, the number of potential workers whose tax contributions can help support their care will decline1.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), has warned that many countries are underestimating the future impact that such factors will have on healthcare spending. In a 2001 study OECD revealed that the over-65 age group accounted for 40-50% of healthcare spending and that their per-capita healthcare costs were three to five times higher than those under 652. (more…)

Public Access to Articles on Antidepressant Safety

Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology is a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. The February/April issue (Volume 16, 2006) explored the controversial topic of using selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs to treat depression in children and teens.

Peer Review: Peer review of a scientific publication is considered a rigorous process that makes a published scientific study a credible source of information. A panel of the researcher’s “peers” assess the submitted publication for scientific merit and objectivity.

This topic has been controversial because of the debate around safety and effectiveness of this class of drugs for what is considered a vulnerable population. Based on the potential impact of this controversy, the publisher has made this double issue free for viewing.


pills.gif The association between treating teens and children with SSRI drugs and an increased risk of suicide has made this a highly public controversy – including a past episode of Law & Order on television.

This journal is clearly aimed for healthcare professionals, researchers, and industry consultants. The publisher of the journal is a privately held media company that also publishes other magazines in biomedical research and biotechnology.

If readers are particularly interested in a specific article, I will be happy to help decipher it for you.

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