Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Press release] Carnegie Mellon, Pitt Ethicists Question Impact of Hospital Advertisi

About 20 years ago I started thinking along similar lines. Now I am at a point questioning if it is ethical to profit from health care. Two years as a Peace Corps volunteer (back in 1980/81 in Liberia, West Africa) changed my views on many topics considerably. Also I think it was the wonderful humanistic/social justice  tone of grade school religious textbooks, notably 8th grade back in 1969.

Summary (from EurkAlert!)
Ethicists question the impact of health information that is available online, specifically hospital advertisements, and argue that while the Internet offers patients valuable data and tools — including hospital quality ratings and professional treatment guidelines – that may help them when facing decisions about where to seek care or whether to undergo a medical procedure, reliable and unbiased information may be hard to identify among the growing number of medical care advertisements online.

From the 30 January 2015 Carnegie Mellon press release

In a commentary piece published in JAMA Internal Medicine, Carnegie Mellon University’s Alex John London and the University of Pittsburgh’s Yael Schenkerquestion the impact of health information that is available online, specifically hospital advertisements. London and Schenker argue that while the Internet offers patients valuable data and tools — including hospital quality ratings and professional treatment guidelines — that may help them when facing decisions about where to seek care or whether to undergo a medical procedure, reliable and unbiased information may be hard to identify among the growing number of medical care advertisements online.

“The marketing objective of selling services by making them seem attractive to consumers can create tensions or outright conflict with the ethical imperative of respect for persons, since the latter requires that patients make medical decisions in light of balanced information about the full range of risks and benefits associated with their care,” said London, professor of philosophy in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and director of the Center for Ethics and Policy.

Referencing a research article in the same journal issue that found hospital websites failed to disclose risk information for transaortic valve replacement (TAVR), a recently approved procedure to treat patients whose aortic valve does not open fully, London and Schenker pinpoint four risk concerns for patients seeking medical information online:

1. Identifying Advertising — Hospital websites often have the appearance of an education portal, leaving patients to assume that the information presented is informational, not persuasive.

2. Finding Unbiased Information — Unlike FDA-regulated direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs, hospital advertising is overseen by the Federal Trade Commission and subject to the same “reasonable” standards applied to advertisements for common consumer goods such as cars and cereal. While hospital advertisements may describe specific medical interventions that entail significant
risks, there is no legal requirement that these risks be disclosed.

3. Recognizing Incomplete or Imbalanced Information — Poor-quality medical information is hard to recognize unless the person reading it is a trained clinician.

4. Influence on Health Care Decisions — As patients seek out information online, the quality of their decision-making and care choices will be influenced by the accuracy or inaccuracy of the information they are likely to encounter.

To begin to fix the risk to patients seeking medical information online, London and Schenker recommend to clearly label hospital websites as advertisements; allocate resources to created balanced online informational tools; and focus future attention on not only the content of health care advertising but its impact.

For more information, visit http://www.hss.cmu.edu/philosophy/faculty-london.php.

 

Related Resource

  • Evaluating Health Information (Health Resources for All, Edited by JaniceFlahiff)
    • The Penn State Medical Center Library has a great guide to evaluate health information on the Internet.

      The tips include

      • Remember, anyone can publish information on the internet!
      • If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
        If the Web site is primarily about selling a product, the information may be worth checking from another source.
      • Look for who is publishing the information and their education, credentials, and if they are connected with a trusted coporation, university or agency.
      • Check to see how current the information is.
      • Check for accuracy. Does the Web site refer to specific studies or organizations?
    • How to Evaluate Health Information on the Internet (US National Cancer Institute)
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January 31, 2015 - Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , , , , , ,

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