Just as the Internet is partially tainted by pop-up ads and untrustworthy sites, and email is almost ruined by spam, blogs are at risk for those whose primary interest is not necessarily for the good of the public. Though Web 2.0 technology, which blogs are a part of, increase the ability for individuals to connect and share information, there is also pleny of room for scams, sales pitches, and other forms of misinformation. This is particulary troublesome for healthcare/ medical blogs, since patients suffering from a particular ailment may be more susceptible to messages that promise a cure.
One of our recent medical school graduates, Dr. Fred Weiss, pointed me toward one such website/blog at www.YourMisdiagnosis.com.
The premise does sound legitimate:
"This web site is designed as an aide in helping patients and their families address the concern of medical misdiagnosis. We built this as a place where people can share stories and learn from others’ experiences."
They even take efforts to state that they are not trying to blame doctors, but rather raise awareness, increase discussion, and hopefully solve the problem. Thus far there are two "posts" from "patients" who relate their stories of being misdiagnosed with cancer, and relieved to find out it was only an infection. You are similarly encouraged to post your own personal experience with misdiagnosis.
Here's the catch. There is one impressive looking advertisement on this "blog" for Premerus Diagnostic Excellence. Premerus is a diagnostics imaging site where physicians refer to local premerus imagining centers, and then the images are sent to a central site where the "Premerus Expert" interprets the study and communicates this back with the physician. Though it is not entirely clear why the Premerus radiologist is better than your local radiologist, the site touts that their product "increases diagnostic accuracy, improves patient outcomes, and decreases health care costs." The site also discusses the common problem of....(get ready)....misdiagnosis.
It took some very simple Internet snooping to easily discover that the owner of YourMisdiagnosis.com and Premerus Diagnostic Excellence is one in the same!!
I am sure that using a blog deceptively to promote some product is not new and will continue for as long as blogs exist. However, this is particularly disturbing since the Chief Medical Officer Gregg P. Allen, M.D and the medical director Norman Scarborough, M.D. of Premerus are both physicians. Though promoting health care services can be done in an ethical way, this deceptive way of using a medical blog is certainly an infraction of the ethical standards of the medical profession.
If you use the Internet, and medical blogs, in particular as a source for medical information, make sure to check on the source of information. Look at the "about" section to view the author's credentials. Look at who advertises on the site. Advertising is not inherently bad (I am up to $5 profit on my Google Ad for this blog), but look out for potential conflicts of interest. Finally, I believe the only way to solve this problem is to collectively police. If you find an unscrupulous medical blog, do more than just ignore it, call it out and warn others. This was my intent for this post.