Saturday, November 16, 2013

When Medical Content Providers Go Political

It is an interesting time in medicine.

If we step back a few thousand feet and look down on America's medical world, we see a mess.  We see rules and regulations run amok.  We see doctors under unprecedented pressure to click rather than to care. We see government websites built with the promise of access to health care, collapsing under its own weight.  We see politicians promising one thing, then delivering another.  Then we see them give exceptions to some or outright lying to others.  Then we see them get cozy with the insurance lobby after they're caught red-handed  in hopes of making a "fix."

We, the lowly patients and doctors in this political power game, turn our heads in disgust as we struggle to help people live (literally) another day.

US medicine is now all about power and money.  As such, medicine is now more about a political vision rather than reality.   Politics, after all, is all about sales: selling a vision to stay elected and to stay in charge.

So where better to turn to promote your political sales job than WebMD (and their subsidiaries like Medscape and, that "trusted" purveyor of all things medical?  It seems WebMD and its MedScape affiliates like have quietly accepted a $4.8 million grant  to promote the Affordable Care Act and have refused to disclose this little factoid to doctors and their readers.

There does not need to be a  Sunshine law for politicians and medical content providers these days, only doctors.

But it doesn't stop there.  Ironically, shortly after this disclosure by the Washington Times, an article entitled "Conflicts of Interest: Concepts, Conundrums, and Course of Action" appeared on Cardiology's website.  (Update: this morning there's an article on the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, too!)  As I tried to read this article I laughed as I clicked through a Brilinta ad and was subject to Bystolic and Belviq ads in Medscape's sidebar.

Here's a real "course of action" I'd suggest to doctors bothered by the double-standard of disclosure imposed on us from our political class: dump the Medscape app on your cellphone, give a little shout-out to, er, Medscape Cardiology, and ask why they haven't said anything.

Then cancel anything related to WebMD.

Then, at least, we'd be sure we're getting past the political propaganda and back to medicine.


h/t: A faithful reader.

Addendum 16 Nov 2013 @ 12:20 PM CST: It seems WebMD felt compelled to release this press release regarding their editorial integrity, but it did not reference the above conflict disclosed here specifically.


Medical Quack said...

Yes I agree on all the focus on the Sunshine act for doctors as sure there's a few dirty eggs out there like any industry but not to focus that it gets by all means. Myself I just look at all the efforts that go into those news articles and think so myself, reporters go get a life and focus on something that carries more importance than focusing on a small minority of doctors who made some money. I had a couple MDs look up their names and yeah big deal one got $2k five years ago for a talk he did for a drug company and that was it, hardly incriminating or even worth the print.

It is interesting how companies are marketing as you say and look behind the scenes. I did the post on the WebMd portal to where the university was going to "fine" non participants for not using the WebMd portal. What drives people to do that data gets sold too. Nobody else seemed to see that connection either with the WebMD portal but if fewer enter data then the school has less data to sell too! All throughout the portal too was the focus on changing behaviors with the algorithms of the portal and we all know algorithms don't change behaviors, they give data and information but are not behavior changers alone, way over sold on the marketing. So again that was my beef on that one as why else would they want to charge people penalties for not participating? Makes perfect sense does it not?

So beyond looking up information on WebMD be aware of what takes place with marketing as well I say.

How companies use their money as you stated above is worth asking about. I keep writing about the data selling epidemic we have in the US and it seems to keep getting worse all the time and again it's the patients and the doctors who are the suppliers of what makes data sellers rich. If there's an error, well they have a captive audience of "free labor" (us) to fix errors after they have sold the data as we get denied access and have little choice.

Anonymous said...

Paternalistic attitudes are common in those who have power over doctors. Example. When I was with the yearly meeting the hospital administrator gave to all the house staff, he stood up and said "We have a rule that no one is to address the nurses by their first names. People will get the wrong idea that the doctors and nurses are romantically involved with each other." At the end of his speech he introduced some of his assistants. In the course of this, addressing one of them, he said "Anne, step up here so they can know who you are". From the anonymity of numbers, one of the residents called out "Whoo. What have you been up to with her?" This brought quite a laugh from everyone except the administrator. Ever notice how self importantly and with what little sense of humor the bosses, who know nothing of medicine, ride herd over the doctors? Is it going to get like Russia where doctors get no money and criminal penalties if they disobey the regulators?

Anonymous said...

I didn't think that Eric Topol was motivated by money as the editor. Frankly, I'm shocked. I thought that he was all about the science.

Your insights about 'grants' to promote Obamacare explain some of the outrageous editorials on WebMD supporting this lame, unaffordable, legislation. The irony of Ezekial Emmanual claiming that the individual insurance market sold 'garbage' plans only to find out that Obamacare plans have $6500 deductibles and 30% coinsurance payment. More Obama acolyte lies. Can anything he or his supporters be believed? That goes for WebMD.

Just A Guest said...

Dr. Wes, I tried to bring this up in a comment to an article on the KevinMD blog, but the comment was deleted and now all of my comments are subject to "moderation", with most of them never appearing at all.

We definitely need a Sunshine law for medical content providers. In Australia, there was a scandal called "Cash for Comment" when a radio talk show host was found to have been saying nice things about a certain airline in his editorial content only because they had paid him. Now anyone in the media (including bloggers) has to disclose any and all sponsors.

I generally like the KevinMD blog, it's how I found your blog which I enjoy, but they really seem to have gone overboard on the Democrat talking points, esp. about Obamacare, lately. I can't help but wonder if they, and/or many of the bloggers whose pro-Obamacare pieces they pick up, are paid propagandists for the State.

Now that the majority of the American public is against the ACA, I wonder whether some of these blogs and individuals who have allowed themselves to be used as Useful Idiots in its State-sponsored promotion will regret it in future. Their credibility may never return.