I don’t like drug ads
As I sat in a doctor’s waiting room, I picked up the latest issue of WebMD‘s healthy living magazine. I leafed through the pages looking for a recipe I saw highlighted on the cover.
What did I notice instead? Drug ads.
I counted them: 13. Some were for supplements (elderberry gummies, really?), but most were for prescription drugs.
These ads typically need 3-4 pages to list all the information required by the FCC. The entire magazine is only 93 pages; that means more than 30% of this magazine devoted to improving health is advertising the newest (and most expensive) drugs on the market.
Related post: Drug commercials do more harm than good
Be informed—look for industry ties
There’s a reason I’ve never included the uber-popular health website WebMD on my Resources page. For many years, WebMD has depended on advertising dollars from Big Pharma.
WebMD, RxList, MedicineNet and Medscape are the latest to forge ever-closer ties to the pharmaceutical industry after they were purchased by private investment firm KKR (Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co). The takeover will be finalised by the end of this year.
The sites have always been heavily reliant on advertising income from drug companies—WebMD alone generates around $700m a year—and this has influenced editorial decisions. Medcsape has deleted all negative stories about vaccinations, for example.
But now the pharmaceutical industry has a direct influence over the sites with KKR’s $2.8bn purchase. KKR has in its investment portfolio GlaxoSmithKline’s older drugs whose patents have expired, Bayer’s diabetes equipment division, and 80 per cent of Panasonic Health Care.
Several of their directors and board members also have close ties to the drugs industry, including one executive who is also chairman of Merck.
WebMD’s reach in the US is vast, and is one of the country’s most influential health websites. It’s visited by around 75 million consumers and 650,000 doctors every month.
KKR’s Internet Brands division has day-to-day control of the recently-acquired sites. Its CEO, Bob Brisco, said: “WebMD and Medscape are the market leaders in online health with unparalleled reach to consumers and healthcare professionals”—and now they are even better placed to push the pharmaceutical line.
I get it. Digital sites like WebMD or any online magazine or newspaper need to pay their bills, and advertising has always been a dependable source of revenue.
But be aware of those industry ties when you go to WebMD or any other health website for information.
- Look at the ads. Are they clearly marked as different from the editorial content?
- How many ads are there?
- What are the ads for? Health services, such as treatment centers, or prescription and over-the-counter drugs?
- Look for a link to the site’s sponsors, board of directors or corporate “partners.”
And remember that just because a drug is advertised on WebMD doesn’t mean it’s safe or effective or right for you.
My preferred health resources
I try to keep my Resources page up to date with what I think are reliable, unbiased websites.
The Mayo Clinic site focuses a bit more on disease, while Family Doctor, which is run by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), offers more healthy living tips for all ages.
Family Doctor also has one of the best Symptom Checker tools that I’ve seen (definitely better than WebMD‘s, which almost invariably includes a life-threatening condition in the results).
Do you have a resource you use more than others? I would love to hear about other sites people use, so I can check them out and perhaps include them on my Resources page.
And for those who want to build a great at-home resource library, I recommend these books: