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Cardiovascular Disease and Osteoporosis Screening Package Is Unethical, Misleads Consumers, Does More Harm Than Good

Feb. 19, 2015

Cardiovascular Disease and Osteoporosis Screening Package Is Unethical, Misleads Consumers, Does More Harm Than Good

Public Citizen Calls on 73 Hospitals in 24 States to Sever Relationships With Life Line Screening Over Unnecessary Screening Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen today urged 73 hospitals in 24 states to sever their partnerships with Life Line Screening and stop promoting the company’s community-wide cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis screening package, which is unethical and much more likely to do harm than good.

The Austin, Texas-based company misleadingly peddles a package of inexpensive cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis screening tests to people living near its partnering hospitals without appropriately identifying which people have relevant risk factors that would make some of the screening tests medically appropriate. Life Line Screening lists the partner hospitals on its website, which gives credibility to the company’s screening tests. Many of Life Line Screening’s partner hospitals also help advertise the company’s screening tests.

Life Line Screening’s primary screening package includes the following five tests:

• Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG, a test to screen for a common abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation);
• Carotid artery ultrasound (a test to look for blockages in neck arteries that may lead to stroke);
• Abdominal aortic aneurysm ultrasound (a test to look for abnormal ballooning of the abdominal aorta);
• Peripheral arterial disease test (which involves comparing blood pressure in the arm and ankle to assess the health of arteries); and
• Heel bone ultrasound (a test to measure bone density to screen for osteoporosis).

These screening tests are promoted directly to consumers through: (1) online advertisements on Life Line Screening’s website; and (2) through letters mailed directly to people’s homes. The advertising materials make unsubstantiated claims about the medical benefits of the company’s primary screening package and omit information about the risks of adverse health-related outcomes and financial harms that may result from the screenings, Public Citizen maintains.

According to Life Line Screening’s materials, the company has “helped save thousands of lives” since 1993 and has prevented strokes and other types of cardiovascular disease. These statements are misleading because Life Line Screening does not have evidence from well-controlled clinical tests proving that the screening tests save lives and prevent strokes and cardiovascular disease when used in the general population its solicitations target. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) generally has required such evidence for those types of medical claims.

In addition, Life Line Screening’s promotional materials omit important information such as the type of individuals for whom certain screening tests are appropriate, evidence-based guidelines describing if and when such tests should be performed, and the risks of adverse health-related outcomes and financial harms that can result from false-positive test results and from overdiagnosis.

“The hospitals that partner with Life Line Screening and help promote its cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis screening package do a great disservice to the communities that they serve and adversely impact public health more broadly,” said Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “We hope that the hospitals will act in the best interest of patients and consumers, and quickly terminate their relationships with Life Line Screening.”

The letters were sent to hospitals and medical institutions in Alabama, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

Of note, on June 19, 2014, Public Citizen sent similar letters to 20 hospitals and medical institutions that had partnered with HealthFair, another company that inappropriately promotes similar direct-to-consumer cardiovascular disease screening tests, urging them to immediately sever their relationship with that company. Fifteen of the 20 institutions have since informed either Public Citizen or representatives of the news media that they have terminated or will be terminating their relationships with HealthFair. Public Citizen is hopeful that Life Line Screening’s 73 hospital partners will wisely choose to do the same.

Additionally, on Jan. 22, Public Citizen formally asked the FTC to investigate the direct-to-consumer marketing of Life Line Screening. The FTC Act prohibits advertisements that contain false or misleading representations or material omissions. Public Citizen stated in its letter that Life Line Screening has violated these prohibitions.

View the list of hospitals and read the letters.