Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Medscape News: Diseases for Sale

If you're a physician, you know Medscape. A division of that internet health care behemoth, WebMD, Medscape pounds our inboxes daily with offers of free CME. Much of the CME is industry-sponsored, which is not exactly a news item for most of us. But what you may not be aware of is that Medscape sells its disease-specific "resource centers" to the highest bidder. For example, the ADHD Resource Center is purchased by Shire, the Bipolar Disorder Resource Center is owned by GlaxoSmithKline, and the Pharmacological Management of Pain Resource Center is now the property of Cephalon.

How much do companies pay in order to take control of what doctors learn? Good luck extracting this information from Medscape, but rumor has it that about $500,000 gets you a sort of "base package" which includes four articles. The sponsoring company gets to specify the topics and the authors, of course. There is a menu of extras, so if you really want to saturate the medical mind with your marketing message, you can presumably part with well over a million. And this doesn't include income from the advertising banners that appear to populate each and every web page on the site.

Yes, doctors know Medscape. And Medscape knows money.


Anonymous said...

It's no better on the consumer side of things.

Large pharmas regularly sponsor content centers on large health websites like WebMD. Scroll down to near the bottom of every page on WebMD and you'll see a list of "Health Solutions (from our sponsors)" or "Health Centers (from our sponsors)" on other sites.

The solution centers are basically articles provided to the company to publish (after ostensibly going through the company's "editorial" process, which usually results in a few minor, unimportant changes. The centers are made to look very much like the website they live on, and while a notice is made on each page that this is "sponsored content," it's easy to not make much of it since the WebMD logo is usually more prominent.

The costs for these consumer centers on a large site can be anywhere from $500 - $1.5M, each, annually. WebMD has 15 of them, and they push the centers on their own content pages, seamlessly integrating the center's advertisement into the editorial content and flow. This is done on purpose -- to confuse consumers into thinking it's editorial content, not an advertisement they are clicking on.

WebMD is not alone in doing this, however. Every major consumer health portal in this space does similar things.

Daniel Carlat said...


This is fascinating stuff. I'd love to hear more about these processes--feel free to email me at drcarlat@comcast.net.

Anonymous said...

More than ever consumers are searching for health realted content over the Internet.

Expect great things to come from the major players in this industry, such as WebMd.com.

I'm afraid we haven't even seen the beginning of what will soon fuel consumers with more power and knowledge to become better informed about healthcare and avilable treatments and options.

Margaret Polaneczky, MD (aka TBTAM) said...

WebMD is nothing more than a clearinghouse for pharma sponsored marketing - Just a web-substitue for the pseudo-journal throw away stuff we get in the mail every day - you know, the fake journal titled something like "Progress in dease X" or Advances in Disease X" that never get beyond issue 1 or 2 because that's where the ad budget runs out.

After awhile you start to recognize the same names over and over, and learn who in the field is beholden to Big Pharma for a major portion of their annual income, and who are just occasional players.

You also get to know that when a bunch of CME begins to appear around a disease, there's a new drug on the horizon, and you need to read the CME with this in mind. I've turned it into a game to see how long it takes me to name the drug being marketed (No peeking at the sponsorhip on the back page, now!)

I do think that a lot of the docs who write and appear in these articles have genuine opinions on which treatments are best, and Big Pharma chooses them because their interests are aligned.

That is not necessarily bad, presuming that the doc's opinion is based on clinical experience and not biased interpretation of the literature. There are many good drugs out there that really work, and we do need to be educated about them. The problem is that the process has become so infiltrated with marketing that it's becoming impossible to separate the marketing from the truth.

Thanks for putting yourself out there and continuing to bang this drum.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious where you get the information about the cost of site sponsorship.

Anonymous said...

Medscape is really two companies in one.

I am not familiar with the industry-sponsored Medscape, but I know well the editorial staff of the "other" Medscape, who generate an impressive and valuable body of original news in psychiatry. They also recruit and re-publish independent journal articles of immense importance with no industry tie-ins whatsoever. Just this week, Medscape posted "Antidepressant Agents for the Treatment of Chronic Pain and Depression" (Pharmacotherapy. 2007; 27(11): 1571-1587.
565763?src=mp), and "Stopping Mood Stabilizers During Pregnancy Doubles Relapse Risk in Bipolar Disorder" (Am J Psychiatry. 2007; 164:1817-1824.
568220?src=mp). These, among others, are two very important articles.

Yes, it is true that there are links next to some of these articles with names like "Assess clinically focused product information on Medscape," which lead to the industry stuff, but they are easy enough to ignore.

In the interest of honest disclosure, our journals are often featured on the Medscape site. Nevertheless, as a publisher and journalist with a keen interest in this area, I find a lot of the editorial content on Medscape highly valuable and can vouch for the integrity of many of the editorial staff there. Regards and a Happy New Year to all.

James La Rossa Jr.
Medworks Media Global
Los Angeles, CA