There’s money to be made in flogging pills and potions (vitamins and supplements mostly) to people who aren’t very well and there’s even more money to be made from the ‘worried well’ too. Marketers promote their products to people often by being a bit evasive regarding the claims made for them.
There are plenty of dodgy websites offering miracle cures but even high street shops offer products based on evidence that isn’t quite up to scratch.
Sometimes claims are so outlandish that people might get in touch with a health charity just to find out if anything can be done to stop them (clearly they’re not falling for it) but equally, claims might be quite carefully presented to avoid falling foul of advertising regulations and include some harmless and factual statements to muddy the waters a bit.
My (Jo) concern when speaking to people with diabetes about iffy claims is that I don’t criticise the company to the point that they and their lawyers might want to have a chat with me about defamation and libel. There have been a number of high profile cases in which people who’ve provided information about the likelihood of a treatment working have found themselves at the mercy of libel suits.
Many stem cell clinics around the world, in unregulated health systems, have claimed that they can cure a variety of illnesses – they tend to use patient testimonials to convince patients that they should part with their money for this miracle treatment. Happily more and more of the clinics are being shut down and the ‘international stem cell research community’ has been pretty vocal in its criticism of unlicensed clinics offering unwarranted claims and potentially harmful treatments.
Since it’s flat out impossible to stop every misleading claim the best anyone can hope for is to make sure that people have the tools to spot unlikely claims and also know who they can ask if they have a question (and there’s a role here for medical research / patient charities as well as doctors and nurses).
Recently I came across the Quack Clinic Checklist from Dr Steven Novella and I think it makes some good points. While there will never be a one-size-fits-all checklist this is a really good and clearly written guide to some of the more obvious things to look out for (see link below).
Health charity people – how do you handle enquiries from people relating to dodgy claims? Do you refer them to their doctor / provide information on your website / answer each enquiry?