When it comes to offering freebies to the medical staff, hospitals have gotten very good at keeping drug company representatives off their premises, but what about for patients? A friend recently went to a hospital-based clinic in another state and found this magazine being given away in the information racks.
"Nice," he thought, "a useful and informative magazine about health issues." But then he opened it up. Sure, there were interesting articles about COPD, diabetes, cholesterol, hip replacements, and overactive bladders. But every single one was tied to an ad from a drug or device company related to that syndrome or procedure. Indeed, the format of the magazine made it difficult to know where the article ended and the ad began.
The magazine also had a business reply card included, allowing you to get direct mail from those advertisers, but also savings coupons from the drug companies. You are asked to "check the health conditions you have." But then, notice the small print at the bottom: "Our sponsors represent many types of companies, including pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers that may use the information you share on this card for marketing and research purposes."
Wow, even the hospital itself cannot use that kind of personalized information -- for scientific research -- without getting approval from an IRB, providing appropriate disclosure to patients, and blinding the data to protect people's privacy.
I don't begrudge the fact that pharmaceutical companies choose to advertise, even in this way. But do you think it is appropriate that hospitals offer these kinds of magazines and their associated data-gathering tools to their captive patients? Beyond the obvious issue of promoting specific drugs and collecting personal information, the organizational issue arises. Who decides to allow these magazines to be placed there? How are those decisions made? Are any standards applied? Is there any supervision of this process?