Intended for healthcare professionals

News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Only 6% of drug advertising material is supported by evidence

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 27 February 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:485

"Misleading" Advertising by Drug Companies and BMJ


In response to Heidelberg¡¯s (2004) article1 on misleading
advertising by drug companies, and intermittent publication of articles on
this topic, we want to draw attention to the misleading advertisement for that appeared several times in BMJ2. The advertisement had a
picture of the home page for GoogleTM (the popular internet search engine)
and stated, in part, ¡°Search GoogleTM for ¡®medical journal¡¯ and see who
tops the list¡±. The obvious implication was that is the best
medical journal website. However, the actual reason shows up at
the top of the list is because the title for the website is
¡° ¨C electronic BMJ (British Medical Journal)¡±. Also, the
¡°keywords¡± for the website contain the words ¡°medical
journal¡±, ¡°medical¡±, ¡°journal¡±, etc. (The keywords for any website
can be seen by going to ¡°View¡± ¡ú ¡°Source¡± on the web browser.) The
search engine looks for the specific words ¡°medical¡± and ¡°journal¡± in
the titles and keywords of websites (and highlights these words in
displaying the results). That is why the other websites at the top of the
list are ¡°¡±, ¡°Medical Journal of Australia¡±,
¡°Southern Medical Journal¡±, and ¡°Irish Medical Journal¡±.

The Editor of BMJ has noted3 that advertisements placed in medical
journals by pharmaceutical companies are often misleading and encouraged
readers to criticize advertisements just as they criticize editorial
pages. We believe that advertisements in medicine, just like
advertisements for any product, have both a stated content and a message
by implication or association. We believe that strict policing of the
stated content of advertisements is needed because the reader usually does
not doubt the factual information stated in the advertisement. However,
we believe firstly, that the readers have as much common sense as any
proposed advertisement policeman and can evaluate non-factual messages in
advertisements just as well as the latter. Secondly, it would be
difficult or impossible to purge advertisements of all implied messages.
To use reductio ad absurdum, that would require that the ¡°patients¡± in
pharmaceutical advertisements be obese, unattractive, and unsmiling, and
state only begrudgingly that the medication has made their condition
somewhat better!

Pharmaceutical companies, like the manufacturers of any other
product, would like to present their products in the most favorable light,
and this motivation has the beneficial effect of highlighting any possible
advantages of a particular medication. They must not be allowed to make
factually inaccurate claims but it is the reader who must take the
responsibility of being appropriately skeptical of implicit messages in
advertisements -- for example, that being first in the list of GoogleTM
search results makes the best online medical journal.

Rajnish Mago, MD
Thomas Jefferson University
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Neeta Tripathi, MD
Cooper University Hospital
Camden, NJ 08103

1. Heidelberg AT. Only 6% of drug advertising material is supported by
evidence. BMJ 2004;328:485.
2. Advertisement. BMJ 2003;327:424
3. Smith R. Medical journals and pharmaceutical companies: uneasy
BMJ. 2003;326(7400):1202

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

08 March 2004
Rajnish Mago, M.D.
Assistant Professor
Neeta Tripathi, M.D., Cooper University Hospital, One Cooper Plaza, Camden, NJ 08103
Thomas Jefferson University, 1020 Sansom St, 1652 Thompson Bldg, Philadelphia, PA 19107