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NEWS RELEASE
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin (202)588-7746
For Immediate Release: February 25th, 2003

Keep Drug-Sponsored Patient Channel Out of Hospitals, Doctors Say

Commercial Alert and 37 doctors and health professionals sent letters today to the CEOs of all 60 US hospital chains with more than 2000 beds, asking them not to carry General Electric’s new televised “Patient Channel,” because it plays manipulative drug advertising to vulnerable patients in their hospital beds.

General Electric aims to install the “Patient Channel” in 1,100 hospitals by the end of 2003, according to Electronic Media.

The letters to the heads of hospital chains were written and organized by Commercial Alert, a nonprofit organization that protects children and communities from commercialism. The letter follows.

Dear __________:

In September, General Electric launched the Patient Channel, which shows medical programming and drug ads to patients in hospitals and waiting rooms across the country.  The shows and ads run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Patient Channel is essentially a marketing tool for the nation’s pharmaceutical corporations.  It was designed to give them access to a captive audience at a time of maximum vulnerability and emotional distress.  In the studied euphemisms of the channel’s marketing director, Kelly Peterson, the Patient Channel enables drug companies to “directly associate their products with a particular condition in a hospital setting.”

In other words, pitch drugs to them 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.  Two direct-to-consumer drug advertising executives were more candid. “The ultimate goal of DTC advertising,” they wrote, “is to stimulate consumers to ask their doctors about the advertised drug and then, hopefully, get the prescription.”

“Consumers react emotionally,” another drug advertising executive explained, “so you want to know how they feel about your message and what emotional triggers will get them to act….  We want to identify the emotions we can tap into to get that customer to take the desired course of action.”

It is no mystery why drug companies would covet this new system of advertising delivery and emotional manipulation.  It strains belief, however, that hospitals would even consider playing host to it. Hospitals are in the healing business, not the business of tapping the emotions of vulnerable patients for the benefit of hucksters of pills.  It is not their role to deliver patients’ “share of mind”—in the revealing phrase of Pharmaceutical Executive magazine—to these hucksters.  To do so would give whole new meaning to the term “Sick Hospital Syndrome.”

If you provide information to patients, it should be balanced, complete, and unbiased.  It should not be sales propaganda designed to push pills.  Do you really want to invite situations in which patients hear one thing from their doctors and then get conflicting advice from their hospital TV?  Does it need saying that your doctors should be the guides to your patients’ health, and not the advertising agencies that will craft the sales pitches on the Patient Channel? 

Pharmaceutical companies have an irremediable conflict of interest in any information they provide to patients.  Educating patients about possible courses of treatment – sometimes about questions of life or death—is far too important to be left to them.

We urge you to do the right thing.  Maintain the integrity of your hospitals and of the doctor-patient relationship.  Just say no to this ad delivery system called the Patient Channel, and keep it out of your hospitals.

Sincerely,

Amy Allina, Program and Policy Director, National Women’s Health Network
Hugo Alvarez, MD, Mount Sinai Hospital-Chicago
Marcia Angell, MD, Senior Lecturer, Department of Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School; former Editor-in-Chief, New England Journal of Medicine
Eve Bargmann, MD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine, University of Virginia
Bradley J. Benson, MD, Director, Internal Medicine-Pediatric Residency Program, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, University of Minnesota Medical School
Vera S. Cohen, Women’s Community Cancer Project Richelle Cooper, MD, MSHS, Adjunct Assistant Professor, UCLA School of Medicine
Raymond Curry, MD, Executive Associate Dean for Education, Professor of Medicine, Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine
Keri Gardner, MD, UCLA Department of Emergency Medicine
Serafino Garella, MD, FACPC. Anderson Hedberg, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Rush Medical College
Gregory W. Hendey, MD, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine, Emergency Medicine, UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program, Fresno, CA
Jerome R. Hoffman, MA, MD, Professor of Medicine and Emergency Medicine, UCLA
Peter Moyer, MD, Medical Director, Boston Emergency Medical Services, Fire and Police; Professor and Chair Emeritus of Emergency Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine
Randy Myers, Deputy Commissioner, Bureau for Medical Services, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources
Mohan Nadkarni, MD, FACP, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, Director of Ambulatory Education, Director, University Medical Associates, University of Virginia Health System
Maryann Napoli, Associate Director, Center for Medical Consumers
Judy Norsigian, Executive Director of Our Bodies, Ourselves; Co-founder, Boston Women’s Health Book Collective
Thomas G. Pretlow, MD, Professor of Pathology, Urology, Oncology, and Environmental Health Sciences, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
Michael F. Rein, MD, Professor of Internal Medicine, Associate Chair for Undergraduate Medical Education, Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health, University of Virginia
George Reisz, MD, Professor and Chairman, Department of Medicine, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, Truman Medical Center
Arnold S. Relman, MD, Professor Emeritus, Departments of Medicine and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School; former Editor-in-Chief, New England Journal of Medicine
Sally K. Richardson, Executive Director, West Virginia University Institute for Health Policy; former Director, Center for Medicaid and State Operations, Health Care Financing Administration
Steven Rottman, MD, FACEP, Professor, Emergency Medicine and Community Health Sciences, UCLA Schools of Medicine and Public Health
Gary Ruskin, Executive Director, Commercial Alert
Gordon Schiff, MD, Director, Clinical Quality Research, Dept of Medicine, Cook County Hospital; Associate Professor of Medicine, Rush Medical College
Michael R. Silver, MD, Chicago, Il
David Solomon, MD, Professor Emeritus of Medicine/Geriatrics, Chairman of the Department of Medicine Emeritus, UCLA
Robert C. Solomon, MD, FACEP, Faculty, Emergency Medicine Residency, Ohio Valley Medical Center, Wheeling, WV; Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine W. VA School of Osteopathic Medicine
Carl D. Stevens, MD, MPH, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine
Susan C. Stone MD, MPH, FACEP, Associate Residency Director, Emergency Medicine Residency, Los Angeles County/University of Southern California Medical Center
Atilla Üner, MD, MPH, FAAEM, Assistant Professor of Medicine/Emergency Medicine, UCLA Emergency Medicine Center, UCLA Center for Prehospital Care
Richard P. Usatine, MD, Professor, Family Medicine, Florida State University College of Medicine
James Webster, MD, MS, MACP, Michael A. Gertz Professor of Medicine, Buehler Center on Aging, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University
Munsey S. Wheby, MD, FACP, Senior Associate Dean, Andrew D. Hart Professor of Medicine, University of Virginia School of Medicine
Arnold L. Widen, MS, MD, FACP, Executive Director, The Institute of Medicine of Chicago; Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine and Preventive Medicine, Northwestern University Medical School
Michael Wilkes, MD, Vice Dean for Medical Education and Professor of Medicine, School of Medicine, University of California, Davis
Ernie Yoder, MD, PhD, FACP, Chair, Department of Internal Medicine, Providence Hospital & Medical Centers, Southfield, MI

<--------letter ends here-------->

Commercial Alert and the same coalition of doctors and healthcare professionals also sent a letter to the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, asking them to revise their hospital accreditation standards so that sponsored programming does not count aspatient education.  The letter follows.

Dr. Dennis S. O’Leary
President
Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations
1 Renaissance Blvd.
Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60168

Dear Dr. O’Leary:

In September, General Electric launched the Patient Channel, which shows medical programming and drug ads to patients in hospitals and waiting rooms across the country.  The Patient Channel is on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

It is not exactly admirable that a corporation such as General Electric would seek to take advantage of a captive audience of hospital patients—people who are in a state of vulnerability regarding their health – in order to push prescription drugs at them.  But our focus here is your organization’s standards for hospital accreditation, and how this new drug promotion scheme may seek to exploit these, even as it violates their spirit.

In the 2002 Comprehensive Accreditation Manual for Hospitals, JCAHO sets forth a series of standards related to patient education.  The promoters of the Patient Channel will try to portray it as a patient education project, even though the real purpose is to sell drugs.  However, drug marketing executives are far more candid about the non-educational purpose of their work. “The ultimate goal of DTC advertising,” according to two such executives, “is to stimulate consumers to ask their doctors about the advertised drug and then, hopefully, get the prescription.”

“Consumers react emotionally,” another drug advertising executive explained, “so you want to know how they feel about your message and what emotional triggers will get them to act….  We want to identify the emotions we can tap into to get that customer to take the desired course of action.”

The “desired course of action” is, of course, that the patient will badger his or her doctor for the drugs they have seen on the Patient Channel.  The hospital becomes a marketing delivery system for the pharmaceutical companies. 

The Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations should maintain the integrity of institutions of healing and keep out this kind of sophisticated psychological manipulation.  We strongly urge you to adopt the following standard for the accreditation of hospitals:

“Televised programming containing commercial advertisements is not ‘educational’ within the meaning of these standards, and does not fulfill any requirement that hospitals educate their patients.”

Sincerely,

<----letter ends here----->

Commercial Alert is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy.

Commercial Alert has more than 2000 members, representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia. For more information, see our website at http://www.commercialalert.org.

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