"We were surprised by the apparent mismatch between academic medical centers' status as prominent and trusted sources of information and their use of emotional appeals and promotion of unproven services to generate revenue," said co-author Dr. Steven Woloshin, associate professor of medicine and of community and family medicine and a member of Center for the Evaluative Clinical Sciences at DMS.
The researchers noted that while the generally apparent financial interest of pharmaceutical companies may invoke a healthy degree of skepticism among viewers of their advertisements, academic medical centers may be viewed as more trustworthy sources of information. "We are concerned that when potential patients read these ads, they may not realize that the underlying motivation may be to attract patients, not necessarily to promote the health of the public," said Larson.
While the authors stress that they are not against advertising by academic medical centers and acknowledge public advertising may help to address financial challenges in what is becoming an increasingly competitive marketplace in healthcare, they recommend that the centers reexamine the process by which their advertisements are developed.
"We hope that academic medical centers will view our findings as an opportunity for improvement and a stimulus for developing guidelines for their advertising procedures," said Larson "If they are going to advertise, we would like to see them promote evidence-based services or at least those likely to improve overall public health. Ideally, ads would be presented in ways that assisted the public in making good health decisions by providing balanced and objective information."