Thursday, June 05, 2014

Telling us what we want to hear, not the truth

Well, here's a pretty damning article from the Annals of Internal Medicine about the ethics of cancer centers, "What are cancer centers advertising to the public?"  Excerpt from the abstract: 

Background: Although critics have expressed concerns about cancer center advertising, analyses of the content of these advertisements are lacking.

Objective: To characterize the informational and emotional content of direct-to-consumer cancer center advertisements.

Design: Content analysis. 

Setting: Top U.S. consumer magazines (n  = 269) and television networks (n  = 44) in 2012. 

Measurements: Types of clinical services promoted; information provided about clinical services, including risks, benefits, costs, and insurance availability; use of emotional advertising appeals; and use of patient testimonials were assessed. Two investigators independently coded advertisements using ATLAS.ti, and κ values ranged from 0.77 to 1.00. 

Results: A total of 102 cancer centers placed 409 unique clinical advertisements in top media markets in 2012. Advertisements promoted treatments (88%) more often than screening (18%) or supportive services (13%). Benefits of advertised therapies were described more often than risks (27% vs. 2%) but were rarely quantified (2%). Few advertisements mentioned coverage or costs (5%), and none mentioned specific insurance plans. Emotional appeals were frequent (85%), evoking hope for survival (61%), describing cancer treatment as a fight or battle (41%), and inducing fear (30%). Nearly one half of advertisements included patient testimonials, which were usually focused on survival, rarely included disclaimers (15%), and never described the results that a typical patient may expect. 

Limitation: Internet advertisements were not included. 

Conclusion: Clinical advertisements by cancer centers frequently promote cancer therapy with emotional appeals that evoke hope and fear while rarely providing information about risks, benefits, costs, or insurance availability.


Anonymous said...

This is really shameful. What have we come to? Nothing better than used car salesmen.

nonlocal MD

Mitch said...

Good information regarding the cancer centers. I've observed these ads for a number of years and always been at best skeptical. They clearly sell hope, and put it in typical American macho chest-pounding terms: fight, battle and the like. With plenty of sugary emotion.

I wonder what their outcomes are, and how much extra revenue they extract from the process. The ongoing monetization of everything......

Anonymous said...

The hyped elements in these ads are precisely the elements IRBs are federally mandated to scrutinze and either eliminate or minimize in ads for clinical trial recruitment. Most hospitals have Ethics Committees -- in an ideal world where hospitals were not big business, they would oversee the institutional ads rather than the marketing dept.

Keith said...

Doesn't sound much different from what I suspect we would find in hospital advertising (especially for your favorite technology from the makers of the Da Vinci robots)if someone did a similar study.

all advertising, after all , tends to accentuate the positive and ignore th enegative.