Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Medscape Psychiatry Review, Part One: The Good...

Medscape is the number one website for American physicians--a 2010 survey found that 57% of doctors read the site. I'll wager that proportion is higher in 2015.

I have not always been Medscape's number one fan. I've called the site out for pushing Cymbalta in a Lilly-funded "Pain TV" program and for touting Invega in a CME-accredited infomercial that was so blatant that Business Week ran a story about it.

But I have found that the site has improved over the past few years. For example, gone are the notorious sponsored resource centers, in which a single company would underwrite all coverage of a disorder (eg., Shire bought the ADHD section, and GlaxoSmithKline bought bipolar disorder.) There are plenty of ads, but Medscape appears to have understood the separation between church and state, and has stopped merging ads with least in their main pages.

So if you are a psychiatrist browsing for some reliable, free information, can you rely on Medscape? I'll give a qualified "yes."

Where Medscape really excels is in bringing up-to-date news written in an unbiased journalistic style.

For example, above is the psychiatry homepage from April 7, 2015. Yes, there is a big positive feature on a heavily promoted antipsychotic agent, Latuda. But there’s also an article praising lithium as an effective and underused generic drug. And there's a piece about how antidepressants can cause seizures even at normal doses. So at least on the homepage, Medscape is no longer the shill for drug companies that it once was.

If you drill into specific topics, you’ll also find that Medscape becomes a gigantic encyclopedia of medical knowledge. It covers all specialties, and in the psychiatry section alone there are over 100 articles. The articles have multiple sections and are comprehensive. They remind me of the truck-sized psychiatry textbooks that most of us felt we needed to buy earlier in our careers but which we have rarely cracked open. Like those textbook chapters, Medscape’s educational articles are quite dry – even, at times excruciatingly boring. But, nonetheless, the information is out there for you to read and it is scot-free.

Unfortunately, there are still a few dark sides to Medscape. A 2013 article in JAMA authored by Sheila Rothman and colleagues alerted all physicians to the fact that Medscape, along with other similar medical communication companies, is in the business of sharing all of your personal data with drug and device companies. You can read Medscape’s privacy policy here. It's a long document but I will give them credit for using pretty plain language as they disclose the myriad ways in which they are sharing your information. One of the creepiest technologies is called a "web beacon." This is a hidden drone of the Internet that tracks every click you make, every page you seek, and every breath you take. Your mental processes are then sold to "third parties". It's absolutely creepy.

Some will object that this is business as usual on the web. Google does it, which is why I see ads popping up in my gmail for an obscure car rack that I searched for last month. Tracking my car rack searching behavior is one thing--tracking how I'm thinking about saving patients' lives...well, I think there's a qualitative difference. 

In part two of my Medscape post I will cover their continued addiction with industry funded CME. I guess that pays their bills. But the crassness of these infomercials is pretty astonishing, particularly in the era of the Physician Payment Sunshine Act. To be continued…

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