Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Medicine and the Media

Online healthcare advertising needs regulation

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 03 March 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:c5778
  1. Marco Masoni, researcher1,
  2. Maria Renza Guelfi, researcher1,
  3. Gian Franco Gensini, dean of the Faculty of Medicine2
  1. 1Faculty of Medicine, University of Firenze, Viale Morgagni 85, I-50134 Firenze, Italy
  2. 2Department of Critical and Surgical Care, University of Firenze
  1. Correspondence to: M Masoni m.masoni{at}

Internet users are at risk of inappropriate or misleading advertising from healthcare companies during internet searches, warn Marco Masoni and colleagues

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested that drug firms end “misleading” and “misbranded” advertising on Google and other search engines in several warning letters in 2009. Its routine monitoring and surveillance found that advertisements often did not include risk information.1 Our investigations also found that sponsored links sometimes lead to web pages that contain worrying medical claims,2 or to pages that contain no information relevant to the search terms.

Online advertising is attractive to healthcare companies. Search advertising, where advertisements related to search terms appear at the top of the results page, is one of the few successful internet based business models. Google, the most popular internet search engine, earns much of its revenue from AdWords, software used by …

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