Blog | Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Let the buyer beware

Some colleagues and I had an editorial published in an academic journal last week.

I've written about the topic before. My colleague and I were ticked off that more and more of our patients seem to fall prey to the marketing hype around cash-based, no-doctor-order-required commercial screening tests.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for do-it-yourself medicine, provided you have some knowledge, motivation, a good attitude, and know how to get help when you need it. I also applaud the right of people to spend their money the way they want–on entertainment, or medical tests–or hey! medical tests as entertainment.

But what I don't like is when marketers scam people, over-sell them, over-promise them, and sell them things they don't necessarily need to make a buck. And do it under the guise of this could save your life!!

And tell it to you at church. Or the shopping mall. Where you're easy prey.

What my colleagues and I want is for these commercial screening entities is to come clean: Tell the customers which of these tests are actually indicated-–that's medicalese for appropriate. Otherwise, people are just getting a bill of goods. Well-intentioned customers wind up with either false reassurance (the test was never indicated so of course it wouldn't find something) or worse, unnecessary anxiety (these tests find things that require follow up-even when they shouldn't have been done and the "finding" is benign).

It's simple, really: a disclaimer of some sort.

The problem with that is it affects their business model. Their profits are predicated on being able to sell these tests to everybody, not just subsets of patients at higher risk. They prey on our naive beliefs that:
--more tests are good,
--tests are infallible, and
--they wouldn't offer these tests if there was any chance of harm, right?

When we've called companies that do this locally, we're told that these are "recommended" tests. For anyone.

Come clean, commercial screeners! We're on to you.

This post by John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, originally appeared at GlassHospital. Dr. Schumann is a general internist. His blog, GlassHospital, seeks to bring transparency to medical practice and to improve the patient experience.