February 26th, 2003
Critics Object to Drug Ads on Hospital Channel
By Stephaie Riesenman
Doctors and consumer advocates are calling on the
nation’s largest hospitals to "just say no" to General Electric’s
"Patient Channel," which is televised in patient rooms and contains
ads for pharmaceuticals.
"Hospitals are for healing, not hawking drugs to vulnerable patients in
their beds," said Gary Ruskin, in an interview with Reuters Health.
Ruskin’s Commercial Alert organization, which he co-founded with Ralph Nader,
mailed letters on Tuesday to the CEOs of the 60 US hospital chains with more
than 2,000 beds. Their goal is to prevent GE from installing its Patient Channel
in 1,100 hospitals by the end of 2003.
The Patient Channel was launched in April of last year, and currently provides
24-hour health information to patients in about 500 hospitals across the country.
Content ranges from proper nutrition and pain management to cancer treatment
The program is another viewing option for patients, but does not replace other
network television channels.
GE offsets the cost of providing the Patient Channel to hospitals at no charge
by running primarily pharmaceutical and medical advertisements between health
Dr. Bruce Dan, executive director and managing editor of the Patient Channel,
told Reuters Health that the commercials are reviewed and approved by a medical
advisory board of doctors formed by the company.
The half-hour educational programs are screened by the Channel’s medical advisory
board before they can be broadcast into patient rooms, he said.
"It would not be in our interest, nor our sponsors’ interest, to have
any programming that wasn’t objective, reliable, credible and that the patients
and physicians in the hospital could look at and say that this is an objective
30 minutes about heart disease," said Dan.
Commercial Alert argues that the Patient Channel ads "pitch drugs to at
a time when they are most worried about disease, in a way that carries the implicit
authority and endorsement of the hospital and its doctors."
GE contends that they are providing an educational service to hospitals that
are increasingly strapped for time and short on nursing staff, which generally
takes on the responsibility of educating patients.
Dan said several of the topics covered on the Patient Channel are produced
at the request of the hospitals.
"If there’s a need to educate patients after a heart attack, let’s have
the National Institutes of Health put together patient education material,"
said Dr. Michael Wilkes, vice dean for medical education at the University of
California Davis Medical Center.
Wilkes told Reuters Health that the Patient Channel is "disgusting"
and simply a "marketing venture" for GE, and says educational material
should come from "reliable sources, from scientists and investigators who
have no conflicts of interest."
In a second letter, sent to the president of the Joint Commission on the Accreditation
for Healthcare Organizations, Commercial Alert asks that the Patient Channel
not be considered as fulfilling a hospital’s requirements for patient education.
The Patient Channel has been broadcast into hospitals for nearly 10 months,
and this is the first complaint the company has received regarding its content,