On a BMJ blog, Dr. Margaret McCartney writes about her irritation after seeing ads on the side of buses in Glasgow (where she lives) promoting screening tests but not divulging that this was to recruit people into clinical trials. She and her daughter took photos of the ads, and she shared those with me:
She complained to the UK agency that regulates advertising across all media. And that agency ruled that the ads were misleading and must not appear again in their current form. The agency gave this description of the ads:
Three posters on buses in Glasgow promoted a company recruiting for, and running, clinical trials:
a. A bus poster, which displayed an image of an X-rayed hand with fingers crossed, was headlined “1 in 2 women over 50 will break a bone due to Osteoporosis”. Text stated “To find out about our FREE Bone Density scanning programme visit www.improvinghealth.com, call 0800 XXX XXXX or text ‘scan’ to 80XXX. Your local Synexus Centre is located in Glasgow. help us to help you. SYNEXUS”.
b. A second bus poster, which displayed an image of a female using an inhaler, was headlined “Do you have asthma?”. Text stated “Register for a complimentary health check today and you could be part of our research into the future of asthma. Text asthma to 88XXX, call 0141 XXX XXXX or visit www.challenge-asthma.com. SYNEXUS. Help us to help you”.
c. A third bus poster, which displayed an image of an older woman, was headlined “Concerned about diabetes?”. Text stated “To find out about our free health screening programme, visit www.challenge-heartdisease.com, call 0800 XXX XXXX or text ‘heart’ to 81XXX. Your local Synexus Centre is located in Glasgow. We’re getting to the heart of the matter. SYNEXUS”.
McCartney writes: “I wonder if advertising health tests direct to the public is ever going to be good for us.”
Certainly not if only the potential benefits are emphasized, and the potential harms are ignored.
This is not merely an advertising ethics issue; it’s a health care and medical research ethics issue as well.
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