lles' team analyzed ads from nine companies that ran from November 2001 to February 2003, as well as brochures obtained from 20 companies. Two team members then rated them in seven categories: 1) references to the technology's ability to detect diseases; 2) emotion, empowerment and assurance; 3) financial incentives; 4) unsupported statements; 5) appeals based on the popularity of the procedures; 6) statistical information and 7) images.
Messages about the happiness and other positive feelings the scans would provide were found in 100 percent of the ads. Fear-evoking messages and other negative pitches were found in 45 percent. The approaches run the gamut from one ad that has people thanking the company, "You've given us peace of mind," to another that says, "I had a ticking time bomb in my body."
While the study found that the ads and brochures referred consumers for additional information to other sources at the company, the researchers noted, "Virtually none referred to secondary sources of information such as a primary-care physician, or mentioned risks of having a scan." The raters also found statements that were scientifically unsupported in one-third of the advertisements and one-fifth of the brochures.
"Direct-to-consumer marketing about new imaging procedures has the potential to enhance consumer choice," the authors write. "However, if the information presented to consumers overestimates the value of technologies and does not reasonably disclose risks, then choice is constrained, not enhanced."
The research follows up on earlier work by Illes and colleagues, published in the July 2003 issue of Radiology. That article called attention to the lack of medical profession guidelines for appropriat
Contact: Jonathan Rabinovitz
Stanford University Medical Center