Health misinformation

miinfoPOST SUMMARY: In an era where people don’t trust the mainstream media and get their new via the Internet everyone with a computer is a journalist. Unfortunately, there are too many people spreading misinformation and that misinformation is aimed directly at drug companies.

There were two stories, online, last week that I challenged while setting off a comment firestorm. The first was a story on the cost of allergy drugs and the second was an irresponsible post that indicated that statins cause diabetes.

Let’s look at the statin story first. This story was written by Mark Hyman, MD, who is a publicity seeking MD.  It states “this latest study examined five major clinical trials on statins including 32,752 non-diabetics over 4.9 years. During the study period 2,749 patients (or 8.4 percent) developed diabetes. Those on the highest doses of statins (which are increasingly prescribed by physicians) were at the highest risk of developing diabetes.”  Now what is wrong with this study?  In a simple term confounding data.  What that means is it’s difficult to show cause and effect.  For example, it’s logical to think that people who are prescribed statins have high lipids and have other key risks for diabetes.  In order to really show cause an effect, we need to clearly separate those who did not have other risk factors for diabetes vs. those that do.  I tried to mention this to Dr Hyman but my post was deleted.

The second story was on the cost of Rx drugs entitled ” “Sticker Shock: How Big Pharma Gouges the American Public”.  The article talks about the markup on allergy drugs but does not present the facts such as insurers rarely pay the list price and that it costs a lot of money to develop and market drugs.  Judging from the responses to my comments there is a lot of anger at drug companies over drug pricing.  One aspect the article got right was the cost of some generic drugs which have been increasing because of the consolidation of generic drug companies.

As DTC marketers, we need to be aware that everyone with an opinion and Internet access is a journalist.  Physicians need to ensure that patients get the correct information and follow their recommendations. We ALL need to work harder to be more transparent, but we all have to realize that we are going to be fact checked and that patients are going to make up their minds by what they feel and read online.  This is turn means that we need to develop compelling marketing materials that inform and educate while addressing patient concerns.  Patient insights are essential but more essential is developing a response to patient insights while we can share in the conversation.