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Stanford study questions accuracy of ads for body scans

STANFORD, Calif. - A burgeoning industry that sells full-body scans to detect potential diseases - without a doctor's referral - is running advertisements that frequently include unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of getting CT and MRI scans, while rarely providing information about the technology's limitations and risks.

That's the conclusion of researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine who recently analyzed 40 ads from companies that provide medical images directly to consumers, not requiring any consultation with a physician. Their report, published in the Dec. 13 issue of Archives Of Internal Medicine, recommends that guidelines be developed that require these ads to present a more balanced and detailed picture.

"People are capable of being very savvy consumers of medical technology, but the information has to be available to them to allow them to be savvy," said the study's lead author, Judy Illes, PhD, senior researcher in the school's Center for Biomedical Ethics and in the Department of Radiology. "While we can appreciate that in a short telegraphic ad not all the information can be presented, it should at least refer to other sources as well as to more thorough information on the company's own Web site or in their printed brochures."

Virtually none of the ads in the study did this.

"In pharmaceutical ads, people are encouraged to ask for their doctors' advice," Illes added. "Why is that not the case here?"

There is no question that these screens are beneficial for many people who are presenting symptoms of cardiovascular disease or cancer, helping to detect and pinpoint their illnesses. Doctors almost always refer such people for imaging.

But it is much less clear how useful such screens are for people who are asymptomatic-the apparent target for much of the imaging industry's advertising, Illes said. Not only may such people be needlessly exposing the
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Contact: Jonathan Rabinovitz
jrabin@stanford.edu
650-724-2459
Stanford University Medical Center
13-Dec-2004


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