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Pay no attention to the corporation behind the curtain!


The New York Times’ Stephanie Clifford had an interesting piece today about RealAge, an online quiz site that apparently has garnered a fair amount of press from Oprah etc. Public Citizen’s Peter Lurie, deputy director of health research, weighs in by telling the Times how sites like this take advantage of consumers’ health fears:

“Literally millions of people have unknowingly signed up,” said Peter Lurie, M.D., the deputy director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen, a public interest group in Washington. The company, he said, “can create a group of people, and hit them up and create anxiety even though the person does not have a diagnosis.”

So if you have a liver condition, well, then a company selling drugs or medical devices ostensibly can target you by buying RealAge’s list of email address of people with liver conditions. It’s hyper-direct consumer marketing, and it raises all kinds of ethical questions.

Sure, it’s the same way Amazon and other sites advertise books and music online. But this kind of attitude ignores the fact that medical products belong to a completely different category of goods — goods upon which lives can come to depend. (Also, maybe there’s something to the fact that no country in the world besides the U.S. allows direct-to-consumer drug advertising).

As Public Citizen Health Research Group director and acting president Sidney Wolfe, M.D., once testified,

There is little doubt that false and misleading advertising to patients and physicians can result in prescriptions being written for drugs that are more dangerous and/or less effective than perceived by either the doctor or the patient. This can then lead to a subsequent toll of deaths and injuries that would not have occurred had safer, more effective drugs been prescribed.

And that is the bottom line.

flickr photo by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com