I received this press release for a new website, called StopAfib.org. I follow atrial fibrillation therapies and developments pretty closely, I think, for obvious reason: it's what I do. So when I saw this site I decided to check it out.
The website is nicely executed. It seems to have been sponsored by a patient who experienced what sounds like a transient ischemic attack, or stroke, seven months after having emergency heart surgery. She was, the site says, "intrigued by the potential of pulmonary vein isolation to eliminate her atrial fibrillation, and especially fascinated that the removal of the left atrial appendage could eliminate her stroke risk." Really? Would Ms. Hill even know what a left atrial appendage is?
A closer inspection to the press release confirms that the site is being marketed by a website developer and marketer to the elective healthcare industry:
Founded in 2002, and based in San Luis Obispo, California, Etna Interactive provides Web marketing services to the elective healthcare industry (including medical device manufacturers, plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, surgeons and medical day spas); to physicians and surgeons offering new or novel treatments; and to professional service providers including lawyers, architects and builders. Etna Interactive services clients from Hawaii to upstate New York.What is interesting is that this company recognized the need to skirt the provisions of Section 650 of the Medical Board of California Business and Professions Code that forbids "fees for referrals."
And yet, close inspection of the one and only advertiser on this website is Atricure, Inc., the company interested in marketing their equipment for open-chest pulmonary vein isolation for atrial fibrillation. Further more, look at Ms. Mellanie Hill's story carefully.
On September 13, 2005, Mellanie had Mini-Maze surgery with the AtriCure bipolar (RF) device and says, "Though it was surgery, with risks and anesthesia, and was in an area that is very delicate for women, I have no regrets." She had been grounded from flying for two years, and was now able to fly again and travel by herself. She says, "You can't put a price on getting your freedom back."Would a patient really know (or care) that her surgery was performed with the "Atricure bipolar (RF) device?" Does the patient know what "bipolar" means? Or what "(RF)" means?
It is clear this site has been developed by a marketing department of a medical device company. Like industry-paid ghost writers in medical journals, this new tactic is disturbing. Has Atricure has used a website developer and gullible patient to ghost write the marketing of their medical devices? Worse still, could this patient who has had a stroke (or transient ischemic attack) and might be at high risk of recurrent stroke, even after her ablation, be making potenially dangerous recommendations (that stopping warfarin is OK), all in the interest of marketing? And when does a patient testimonial platform that is funded by a company become a "fee for referral" for that company's devices?
While I have nothing against patients standing up for a cause they believe in, I just wish they'd do it themselves. If the StopAfib.org site wants to accomplish this goal:
We're not pushing products or services, or selling anything. We want this site to be as unbiased and informational as possible....then they'd better develop their site themselves.
15:15PM CST Addendum: I contacted Ms. Hill regarding this post and she was very nice to respond. She did confirm that Atricure contacted her first and had a particular interest in her skills as an "author, writer, and speaker," and they shared ideas and it was her idea to provide a forum for patients to explain options for atrial fibrillation therapies and ways to prevent strokes. Hence they provided a grant to her. She states Atricure was "very careful" to remain detached from the project. She also noted the "EP's had a vested interest" in performing catheter-based afib ablation procedures and often refused to refer patients for surgical procedures. She is continuing to seek other sponsors for her website.