Blog | Monday, May 16, 2011

Watch out for medical claims made in press releases

Every once in a while, a press release comes along that's worth mocking publically. Here's one of them.

In honor of National Mental Health Month, one PR flack pitched Philip Stein watches. In the flack's words: "The highlighted element of the watch is the brand's exclusive wellness technology that helps wearers improve sleep and reduce stress. The watch is embedded with a metal disk that emits natural frequencies into the body wearer and in turn, affects the wearer's energy field. It's called 'Natural Frequency Technology' and is a new patented technology studies suggest help to improve sleep quality and reduces stress."

Really. That's what the flack said. Right off the bat, he's gone from mental health issues to sleepless nights from stress. Not content with confounding the two issues, he continues: "Dr. Jeff Gardere, America's well-known psychologist, is Chief Medical Executive for Philip Stein Watches and had been running a practice for over 20 years. He recognized during that time that there was a huge need to educate the public on the possible severities of stress and everyday lifestyle changes that everyday people can make without a prescription. Dr. Gardere found a natural way to reduce stress and prescribed his patients with a high-end accessory Philip Stein Watch."

The psychologist "prescribed" a watch. I wonder if my insurance company would pay for that scrip? The watches start at $1,000, with a few that didn't list the price, just a phone number to call instead.

As it turns out, the watch manufacturer advertises its product's medical benefits right on its home page. And they tout a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled, crossover evaluation right on their website. What they can't tout, because it's not in the study itself, are things such as statistical significance to their outcomes.

The study concluded, "While the current overall results are not statistically significant, a substantial number of subjects demonstrated improvements in the measured individual sleep parameters. Feeling more refreshed after sleep was the primary outcome measure that most clearly separated from placebo. There was not a clear indication that the combination of devices was better than the single device alone condition across all of the sleep parameters. A direct comparison of devices was not conducted in this study. Factors effecting the overall statistical significance of these results could have been environmental (a first night effect), subject inclusion or exclusion criteria, or a placebo effect. Results of this pilot study suggest future studies to determine clinical effectiveness of NFT and SleepNFT should be conducted."

The best way a watch could help sleepless nights is to remind its wearer that it's time to go to bed.