Consumer Health Digest #11-25

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
August 11, 2011

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.

British regulators clamping down on homeopathic claims. On March 1, 2011, the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) extended its scope to include marketing communications on all UK websites. Following this extension, it received more than 150 complaints concerning more than 100 different websites that advertised homeopathy. In response, the agency informed the marketers that by July 1 they must delete any content from their Web sites that (a) claims directly or indirectly that homeopathy and homeopathic products can diagnose, treat, or help health conditions or (b) refers to any medical conditions even if no claim is made that homeopathy can treat them. The marketers who failed to respond were sent a follow-up letter stating that failure to comply might result in launching of a formal investigation that could leading to publication of an adjudication on the ASA Web site. The announcement about ASA's expanded scope also said that violators could be subject to three additional types of sanctions:

The ASA also plans to issue a new guidance document to help online homeopathic marketers to comply with the rules. [Dealing with complaints about homeopathy websites. ASA Web site, June 2011]

Consumer-protection agencies in the United States have paid very little attention to improper claims for homeopathic products. Last year the FTC and FDA joined forces to send warning letters to marketers who claimed that their products could protect against influenza. However, they have not addressed the overall problem of homeopathic claims and have ignored nearly all violations brought to their attention.

New site provides estimated medical and dental costs. The FAIRHealth Educational Site enables consumers to estimate the cost of common medical and dental procedures. In 2009, the New York State Attorney Genera's Healthcare Industry Task Force reported serious problems with the system that major health insurers used to calculate reimbursements for out-of-network services to patients. Following action by the Attorney General, FAIR Health, an independent nonprofit organization, was created to develop a database that would (a) help insurers determine their reimbursement rates for out-of-network charges and (b) provide patients with fee information and a clear, unbiased explanation of the reimbursement process. The information now freely available and will be continuously updated.

New site to help advanced cancer patients. Cancer Commons is a Web-based clearinghouse for patients and physicians who want to learn about molecular diagnostics and experimental treatments. The editor-in-chief is former JAMA/Medscape/WebMD editor George Lundberg, M.D. The participating experts will strive to identify the most relevant tests, treatments, and clinical trials for each molecular subtype of cancer and which drugs are likely to work best in specific patients. The Targeted Therapy Finder on the affiliated CollabRx Web site will enables patient and physicians to get individualized suggestions based on information they place into the search box. The collaboration hopes to cover about four types of cancer per year. The melanoma information is now operational. The next topic will be lung cancer.

Geier license suspended in two more states. California and Indiana have joined Virginia and Washington in suspending the medical license of Mark R. Geier, M.D., pending the outcome of proceedings by the Maryland Board of Medicine. In April, the Maryland board issued an emergency suspension order that accused Geier misrepresenting his credentials and rendering substandard care to patients with autism. Geier and his son David have been operating ASD Centers LLC, a chain of clinics that offers questionable treatments for patients diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

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This page was revised on August 12, 2011.