Doctors sound alarm over medical ads on Internet

March 23rd, 2009 - 2:41 pm ICT by IANS  

London, March 23 (IANS) Doctors have sounded an alarm over Google’s links to medical ads and suggested that web pages which carry worrisome medical claims should be avoided.
Marco Masoni and colleagues at the University of Florence in Italy suggest that as the Internet is not well policed and regulated, it is up to members of the medical community to be vigilant and to suggest improvements.

They recently used Google Italia to search on the keyword “aloe” and found sponsored links to websites recommending aloe arborescens for the prevention and treatment of cancer and offering it for sale.

AdWords is “Google’s flagship advertising product” and was its “main source of revenue in 2007″, the researchers pointed out. Through it, users can create advertisements, choose their own key words, and decide which Google queries their advertisements should match.

Google decides on placement on its pages of search results: which advertisements to show and in what order. But Google’s automated matching to search terms sometimes places inappropriate ads.

For example Google Guide (neither affiliated with nor endorsed by Google), says: “In September of 2003, adjacent to a New York Post article about a gruesome murder in which the victim’s body parts were stashed in a suitcase, Google listed an ad for suitcases.

Since that incident, Google has improved its filters and automatically pulls ads from pages with disturbing content.

But the authors argue that Google filters must be improved further.

Google has often said that it wishes to enter the healthcare arena in many ways, say the authors. “We think that a necessary first step for Google is to improve its filters and algorithms so as to prevent possible harm to its users,” they conclude.

“We are experiencing a healthcare reformation,” says Joanne Shaw from National Health Service Direct in a second article. “The Internet has brought the canon of medical knowledge into the hands and homes of ordinary people, and this should be welcomed and encouraged as good for patients and doctors alike.”

Furthermore, the Internet does not diminish the role of doctors but casts them as expert advisers rather than authoritarian figures with exclusive guardianship of special knowledge denied to ordinary people.

The write-up was published online in bmj.com.

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