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June 19, 2014

HealthFair Cardiovascular Screening Packages Are Unethical, Mislead Consumers, Do More Harm Than Good

Public Citizen Calls on 20 Hospitals and Other Medical Institutions in Eight States to Sever Relationships With Company Over Unnecessary Screening Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen today urged 20 hospitals in eight states to sever their relationships with HealthFair Health Screening because the company’s heavily promoted, community-wide cardiovascular health screening programs are unethical and are much more likely to do harm than good.

Winter Park, Fla.-based HealthFair – and most of its hospital and medical institution partners – peddles inexpensive cardiovascular disease screening packages to people living near the hospitals and institutions without identifying who has relevant risk factors that would make each of the screening tests medically appropriate. HealthFair’s basic cardiovascular screening packages include six tests that, among other things, take pictures of the heart, measure its electrical activity and look for blockages in arteries.

The screening tests are performed in buses, often bearing the names and logos of both the partner hospital or medical institution and HealthFair. The buses roam the surrounding geographic areas of the partner hospitals and medical institutions.

These screening packages are promoted directly to consumers through: (1) online advertisement on HealthFair’s website and on the websites of most of the partnered hospitals and medical institutions, and (2) in at least some cases, through solicitation letters mailed directly to people’s homes. The promotions rely on fearmongering and erroneously suggest that for most adults in the general population, these screening tests are useful in the prevention of several potentially life-threatening cardiovascular illnesses – including heart attacks, strokes and ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysms – and make them sound like an appealing bargain.

In fact, such indiscriminate and widespread testing is more likely to cause harm than good, Public Citizen said in letters sent to the hospitals and medical institutions today. For example, many people undergoing such screening will have false-positive results (appear to show an abnormality that is actually not present) or results showing minor abnormalities that would never cause symptoms or illness. Both circumstances can lead to additional unnecessary and risky tests and treatments that will harm some people, cause unfounded anxiety, and cost patients and insurance companies.

Such widespread screenings are not recommended by medical experts because each of the six tests either benefits only appropriately selected high-risk patients or has not been scientifically shown to provide any clinically meaningful benefit to anyone.

“It is exploitative to promote and provide medically non-beneficial testing through the use of misleading and fearmongering advertisements in order to generate medically unnecessary but profitable referrals to the institutions partnered with HealthFair,” said Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “Consumers are being misled to believe that these screening packages are beneficial when in reality, many will undergo additional unnecessary testing, likely putting them at greater risk, not saving them any money and adding unneeded anxiety.”

The letters were sent to hospitals and medical institutions in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Virginia.

“This screening also violates many ethical principles, such as the duty to promote good and act in the best interest of the patient and the health of society, the duty to do no harm to patients and the duty to protect and foster a patient’s free, uncoerced choices,” Carome said. “Hospitals that promote HealthFair’s screening programs directly to the public do a great disservice to the communities that they serve and to public health more broadly.”

The hospitals and medical institutions are: Arizona: Scottsdale Healthcare; California: Dignity Health California Hospital Medical Center, Dignity Health St. Bernadine Medical Center, Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center; Florida: Bayfront Health Port Charlotte, Memorial Cardiac and Vascular Institute, Bayfront Health Punta Gorda, Venice Regional Medical Center; Illinois: Loyola Medicine; Indiana: Parkview Health; Iowa: Genesis Heart Institute, Mercy Cedar Rapids, Mercy Health Network, University of Iowa Health Alliance, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics; Ohio: Mercy Health, Springfield Regional Medical Center, Summa Health System; Virginia: INOVA, Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center.

Read the letter.


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