Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | September 29, 2012

Inferences in advertising

I heard an interesting commercial on the radio the other day:

Members of ABC health plan were X times more likely to have had [whatever cancer screening they were pushing that week] than everyone else. (obviously paraphrasing)

That’s probably supposed to sound impressive, and to the non-physician, I’ll bet it is. The inference, of course, is that screenings mean earlier diagnosis (often true) AND that earlier diagnosis means improved survival (not always).

What I really wanted to know was whether ABC health plan members were less likely to die from cancer. Just because they’ve had more mammograms and PSA tests by no means implies a survival benefit. Actually, you are far more likely to have had a biopsy if you’re an ABC member. Chances are you are even more likely to have a cancer diagnosis; good thing they’re nationally recognized for their advances in cancer therapy.

Never mind that the USPTF has just come out against routine screening for prostate cancer, and that there is increasing realization that many small lesions on mammography probably represent overdiagnosis of breast cancer. Never mind how much all this unnecessary care ends up costing us every day. And for heaven’s sake, don’t even think about all the pain, suffering, and anxiety that never had to happen.

Then again, we are talking about a radio commercial. Wouldn’t want pesky little things like facts getting in the way of some kick-ass advertising.


  1. “That’s probably supposed to sound impressive, and to the non-physician, I’ll bet it is”

    And to a lot of physicians.

    As we have no way to actually measure “better health,” the entire accreditation and quality-measurement protection racket is based on false endpoints.

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