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Study Condemns Marketing of Imaging Tests

Researchers say direct pitch to consumers not balanced, backed up

MONDAY, Dec. 13, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Direct-to-consumer marketing of imaging technology to screen for cancer, cardiac disease and other health problems doesn't provided balanced information to consumers, claims a study in the December issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics analyzed 40 print ads and 20 information brochures for self-referred, whole-body magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) imaging services in the United States.

The study found 38 percent of the ads and 25 percent of the brochures contained statements that lacked clear scientific evidence. They also found the ads did not contain information about the potential risks of having a whole-body scan. Both the ads and the brochures emphasized information about health care and technology and provided consumers with assurances of good health and other claims meant to get them to opt for a whole-body scan.

"Direct-to-consumer marketing of self-referred imaging services, in both print advertisements and informational brochures, fails to provide prospective consumers with comprehensive balanced information vital to informed autonomous decision-making," the study authors wrote.

"Professional guidelines and oversight for advertising and promotion of these services are needed," the authors added.

An editorial in the same issue calls for more control of this kind of direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing in the United States.

"We propose a call to action by the medical community to halt DTC marketing and self-referral for screening imaging and advocate for regulatory control comparable to what is in place for pharmaceutical advertising," wrote Dr. Patrick G. O'Malley and Dr. Allen J. Taylor, of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

"The only basis upon which DTC marketing and self-referral would be justified is if they actually expanded the use of effective but underused medical interventions. Before implementing a health communication strategy, it seems rational to prove that what it promotes is effective, safe, worthwhile, and meets the standard of medical professional ethics," they wrote.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about imaging tests.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Dec. 13, 2004
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