HEALTH WEB SITES: Say They’re Not Influenced by Corporate Sponsors
Consumers are "flocking to the Internet for health-related information," and drug companies are spending "aggressively" to establish an online marketing presence, the Wall Street Journal reports. But grant sponsors -- who are "supposed to remain at arm's length" from the site -- often support sites that "showcase" certain drugs, raising questions as to the "independence of site content." Thus, the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission have been "quietly" surfing these sites, monitoring the "blurring of commercial and editorial speech." The FDA wants to ensure that information on health Web sites is "independent and free from restriction," maintaining the stance that "sponsors shouldn't dictate the content." The key question, then, becomes "whether a grant funded site will run information that's adverse to a sponsor's interests." Web companies view sponsor's influences differently. At New York's Healthology LLC, which runs www.healthology.com , President Steven Haimowitz said staff doctors write all program content and "sponsors have nothing to do with content development. We don't accept any guidance whatsoever." Andrew Schorr, president of HealthTalk Interactive Inc.'s www.healthtalk.com, said that sponsors "may suggest topics or expert speakers, but he makes the final call on content." HealthTalk lawyer Jeffrey Gibbs said that the "FDA hasn't forbidden company sponsors from suggesting names [of products] when asked." Nor is mentioning a drug name considered "improper influence." He added, "Balanced and fair doesn't necessarily mean neutral." Both the FDA and the FTC have been monitoring HealthTalk, but the agencies declined to comment (Chase, 2/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.