Experts Say Ads for Knee Replacements, Artificial Hips May Fool Consumers

September 22, 2008 09:49 AM
by Cara McDonough
A team of medical experts told lawmakers that advertisements for medical devices, a staple of the health marketing sector, can pose greater risks than ads for drugs.

Pushing for More Regulation

Pharmaceutical advertisements for a range of drugs have been criticized for years. But now some say that ads for medical devices, such as artificial knees and heart devices, are even worse.

The problem, say medical experts who addressed lawmakers on Wednesday, is that medical device spots are not required to give equal balance to the benefits and risks of their products, as drug advertisements are. Therefore, the ads can “create unrealistic expectations among patients and lead to overutilization of inappropriate and costly, unproven technologies,” said Kevin Bozic, a board director of the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons, the Associated Press reports.

The Senate Aging Committee met on Wednesday to discuss whether new restrictions are needed on consumer-directed advertisements for various medical implants. Many of the experts present answered the questions with a resounding “yes.”

Bozic said that advertising a medical device can have a more serious impact on a patient’s health than a drug, because the device may require surgery and is more permanent.

“The results are irreversible because you are kind of stuck with a device,” he said, according to The New York Times.

But David Nexon, a senior official at the Advanced Medical Technology Association, a trade group that represents medical device makers, said the current regulations on advertisements were adequate. He said an ad would only stimulate a patient to talk to his or her doctor, and that the doctor would then provide ample information about benefits and risks, reports the Times.

“You may take a pill because it doesn’t involve very much,” he said. “But you don’t undergo surgery unless you think you have a serious need for it.”

Opinion & Analysis: The good and the bad

Advertising for particular drugs or conditions may not be all bad, say some doctors.

Jim King, a family physician in Selmer, Tenn., says that when patients ask him about drugs they’ve seen advertised, it gives him an “opportunity to talk with the patient,” although many of them do not have the condition or need the drug, USA Today reported in March.

Many doctors and patients, however, believe that the problem with drug ads is that they prompt people to ask for expensive, brand-name drugs over cheaper generics that work just as well. When interviewed by USA Today, Gloria Henderson, 59, of Madisonville, Tenn., said that she believes the money spent on ads would be better spent by pharmaceutical companies to lower drug prices. Henderson believes television drug ads should be banned.

Other analysts say that despite the fact that drug ads are required to mention not only benefits, but risks, of any given drug, consumers become over-informed, and end up wanting and asking for drugs they don’t really need. NPR asked several researchers about the issue in an April 2007 story.

“I think what consumers really need to understand,” says Dominick Frosch, a researcher at UCLA. “is that they're getting a one-sided message.”

Related Topics: Concern over drug ads

It is difficult to watch television without seeing a wide variety of advertisements for drugs that point out their benefits and their risks, and urge consumers to talk to their doctors.

But many believe the ads are problematic, sometimes seriously so, as they may convince people they need drugs that they don’t know enough about.

Some concerned medical professionals, parents and others, for instance, believe the vaccine Gardasil, developed to protect girls against HPV and cervical cancer, was rushed through to the public without enough testing for adverse health effects. Some believe the drug remains popular, however, due to a triumph of marketing, including an aggressive television ad campaign.

One of the major problems with advertising campaigns occurs when drugs are found to have potentially dangerous—even deadly—side effects.

In May, reports linked widely advertised drug Chantix, which is given to people to help them quit smoking, to an increase in suicidal behavior.

Researchers are currently investigating cholesterol-lowering drug Vytorin, due to the fact that it may fail to improve dangerous cardiovascular conditions, and more surprisingly, could be linked to an increased cancer risk.

Reference: Medication


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