Recently in Business of health Category

Cancer center ads that play on fear and emotion


Natasha Singer of the New York Times has an important story on cancer center advertising, including embedding actual radio, TV and print ads in the online version of the article.

There's a section not to be missed in Christopher Snowbeck's piece, "Medtronic stock jolts upward after strong quarter," in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. That section stated:

"Medtronic officials said they were disappointed by second-quarter sales of devices used to provide a spine treatment called kyphoplasty.

Medtronic spent $3.9 billion in 2007 to acquire a California company that manufactured products used in the procedure. But doctors' perceptions of the technology apparently were hurt by articles this summer in the New England Journal of Medicine that questioned the effectiveness of a similar treatment called vertebroplasty.

"We were negatively impacted by the recent vertebroplasty articles," Hawkins said during the conference call. "While our customers understand the value of (kyphoplasty) ... the negative vertebroplasty news impacted the perception of referring physicians." "

"Negative vertebroplasty news" indeed. Let's be clear: two separate studies in the New England Journal of Medicine reported there was no difference up to six months later for patients who actually had vetebroplasty and those who had a fake or placebo treatment instead. No better than fake.

At the time those studies were published, a physician friend wrote me this:

"The cynical view is that next week's segment will highlight why kyphoplasty (an alternative procedure for pretty much the same condition) is so much better than vertebroplasty and the segment will be based upon little or no evidence but rather a happy patient and "expert" doctor who attests to the great results of this new (and costly) technology."

And what difference does it make if - after all is said and done and the studies are in - a device manufacturer's customers understand the value of kyphoplasty?

Pharma sees reform coming, so they raise prices now

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What will Pharma do to maximize profits? The answer isn't theoretical. It's happening right now.

Duff Wilson of the NYT reports:

Even as drug makers promise to support Washington's health care overhaul by shaving $8 billion a year off the nation's drug costs after the legislation takes effect, the industry has been raising its prices at the fastest rate in years.

In the last year, the industry has raised the wholesale prices of brand-name prescription drugs by about 9 percent, according to industry analysts. That will add more than $10 billion to the nation's drug bill, which is on track to exceed $300 billion this year. By at least one analysis, it is the highest annual rate of inflation for drug prices since 1992.

The story includes input from Prof. Steve Schondelmeyer of the University of Minnesota, who, for 6 straight years, has given of his time to come and speak to my undergrad and graduate health journalism students on pharma and pharma pricing issues.

Direct mail disease mongering

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Leave me alone, LifeLine Screening!

They're at it again, with their direct-mail disease-mongering, telling me I need to have their screening tests if I want to be proactive about my health.

I don't want your tests.

I don't want your mailings cluttering my mailbox. Especially when this letter didn't even come from Peggy Fleming, whose name was on the last one.

LifeLine letter.jpg

Osteopaths try to buy journalists' attention with iTunes gift cards


Scott Hensley reports on another low point in health industry marketing efforts.


Hospital PR taking advantage of weakened news media - at least TV

Here's a glaring, classic example of how health care industry public relations is taking advantage of a weakened news media to get its story - and only its story - across.

For free.

As if it were independently vetted news.

Which it isn't.

Last month we alerted you to news that the American Academy of Family Physicians had a six-figure deal with Coke to "develop consumer education content on beverages and sweeteners for its consumer-oriented website,"

Well, that deal doesn't sit well with all docs. One has started a Facebook petition to end the deal. His stated mission:

Coca Cola does not deserve to be in a partnership with family medicine, when their marketing and business practices promote obesity in our patients. I want my Academy to end this agreement.

Something doesn't feel right about FDA - WebMD partnership

In the circles I run in, there's been a buzz about an announcement first made last December about a "partnership" between the FDA and WebMD. Yesterday the two entities announced an expansion of that partnership "to provide increased access to FDA's consumer health information."

I can appreciate the FDA's interest in reaching the public more directly with its messages.

But WebMD has turned over its "channel" - some of it marked "news" - to a government agency. Should journalists "partner" with a government agency for news and information?

And they boast that "Since the launch, over 150,000 consumers have accessed the FDA destination on WebMD ... The FDA's consumer information is also available through WebMD the Magazine, distributed ten times a year and reaching an additional 11 million consumers with each issue."

And I would remind the FDA that, while there may not be any ads on the FDA pages of the WebMD site, users are just a link away from ads on WebMD material. I just visited and quickly found myself viewing ads for drugs for fibromyalgia, depression, coronary artery disease and others. Is that appropriate for the FDA?

Something doesn't feel right about this - for either party - or for the public.

Sandy Szwarc of the Junkfood Science blog looked at this in greater detail when the partnership was first announced in December.

The train has left the station but questions about robotic surgery remain

AP story on a new study in JAMA:

A new study suggests less-invasive keyhole surgery for prostate cancer may mean a higher risk for lasting incontinence and impotence when compared with traditional surgery.

Laparoscopic, or keyhole, surgery is increasingly chosen by men having a cancerous prostate removed. And often it involves the highly marketed da Vinci robotics system. Da Vinci's popularity has been rising even though there's never been a rigorous head-to-head comparison between it and standard surgery.

"There's been a rapid adoption of this relatively new technique," said the study's lead author Dr. Jim Hu of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. The results add to confusion around prostate cancer treatment. It's not clear that either surgery is superior to radiation alone or watchful waiting, which means simply monitoring the prostate for changes.

I love the photo of the billboard attached to the linked story.

Family physicians have a Coke (and a 6-figure deal) and a smile

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Your friendly neighborhood drug store..... promoting drugs for drugmakers.

Read Dan Carlat's latest on how Lilly is pushing its fibromyalgia drug through CVS Caremark.

Another side to breast cancer awareness month: sick of pink


See this Sunday Boston Globe magazine article. Excerpt:

This month, like every October, a sea of pink ribbons washes over products from sneakers to snacks. While the effort raises research dollars, it leaves some breast cancer survivors feeling that companies are profiting from their pain.

I've written about this before, with breast cancer advocacy groups mounting a "think before you pink" campaign - what some call pinkwashing.

Image from the Globe:


A Madison, WI television station has offered to showcase doctors who pay for advertising as the top experts in their fields, according to the AP. Excerpt:

WKOW 27, an ABC affiliate, sent letters to doctors and clinic managers last month soliciting help to create "a local source for credible, consumer information on health specialties." The letter describing the "unique marketing initiative" didn't specify when the programming would run, which left some readers believing it would be on news shows.

Questions about the booming medical imaging business in Texas

Great piece of local health policy journalism by the Dallas Morning News. Excerpts:

"There's a lot of money to be made in owning imaging machines," said Dr. Richard Strax, president of the Texas Radiological Society. "You can buy a relatively inexpensive second- or third-hand MRI machine for a few hundred thousand dollars and make millions on it."

"Today we can't even tell you how many MRI machines are in Texas, who owns them, what condition they're in and what quality of scans they're turning out," Ron Luke, health policy chairman of the Texas Association of Business, told state lawmakers this year. "That doesn't sound like we're very bright, does it?"

For three sessions, radiologists and doctors have fought in the Texas Legislature over the issue of self-referral. This year's legislation, backed by radiologists and business lobbyists, would have required licensing and accreditation of imaging machines, along with a year-long state study of the extent of self-referral by physicians. But it failed.

Proponents of the legislation say opponents are driven by financial motives. Imaging has become a "lifeline" for many doctors, said Dr. Cynthia Sherry, past president of the Texas Radiological Society.

"It's all about the money, OK? Those very doctors opposed to this are the ones participating in it," Sherry said.

An 1,800-word story on a vital health policy topic. Wow, do we need more like this. Ten gallon hats off to the Dallas Morning News.

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