Health is not a corporate affair
Advertisements on healthcare are misleading and must be banned from enticing patients. Media should refrain from endorsing unreliable claims
Treating a patient involves medical history, examination of the patient, and diagnostic investigations as per the need before forming an opinion about the illness and differential diagnosis of the patient. Only then can a doctor prescribe the treatment, medical or surgical as the case may be. There are the set protocols for this methodology and for the specific diseases. These protocols may change from time to time. This change is effected after thorough deliberations by the academics of a particular subject. Telemedicine is still in developing stage to meet the above criteria. Many times, patients seek telephonic advice from the doctor. This is generally discouraged because of the possibility of missing several issues. But these days one finds increasing advertisements on various types of media highlighting their achievements and encouraging patients to get treatment from them.
The modern system of medicine does not permit advertisements to entice patients. The Medical Council of India framed a code of ethics, the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette, and Ethics) Regulations, 2002, to fix some norms for this. Any such practice is considered unethical. It is presumed that advertising is for luring the patients. The clause 6.1.1 of the code prohibits soliciting of patients directly or indirectly, by a physician, by a group of physicians, or by institutions or organisations. The code says that a physician shall not make use of him/her (or his / her name) as subject of any form or manner of advertising or publicity through any mode, either alone or in conjunction with others, which is of such a character as to invite attention to him or to his professional position, skill, qualification, achievements, attainments, specialties, appointments, associations, affiliations, or honours and/or of such character as would ordinarily result in his self-aggrandisement.
The Punjab Medical Council had issued notices to several such violators in 2015-2016. That had led to a check on such practices.
A similar code exists for the Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices termed as Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP). According to it, companies cannot make claim for the usefulness of a drug without up to date evaluation of all the evidence. Stating categorically that a drug is safe and has no side effects, toxic hazards, or risk of addiction is not permitted. Even the comparison of drugs has to be factual, fair, and capable of substantiation. Products of other companies cannot be disparaged, either directly or by implication.
Unfortunately, such code does not seem to exist for other systems of medicine. The electronic media keeps projecting advertisements such as 'cure of retinal diseases in eyes with guarantee' while belittling the modern medical system. There are also advertisements for treating headache 'with guarantee' using some oils. Similarly, we watch claims of treating all the diseases in the body by clearing the stomach. Yoga is projected as a panacea for all diseases. There are several advertisements for converting grey hair to black. Advertisements also appear for hair transplants. Treating sugar for sure is also advertised. About sexual issues, advertisements can often be seen on walls, posters, and print media.
Many of these advertisements are given by celebrities. They give a wrong impression and are misleading. It is time that such business is stopped. Media must realise its duties. Health cannot be left to be exploited by business interests and unproven methodologies. The government must enact a law in this regard instead of overlooking these issues.
(Dr. Arun Mitra is Senior Vice President, Indian Doctors for Peace and Development. The views expressed are strictly personal)