Hospitals

MedCity morning read, Friday, March 27

Popular online health quiz RealAge promotes better living through non-medical means, such as taking multi-vitamins, eating breakfast and flossing your teeth. But the quiz that tells your “real age” based on your behavior and other health risk factors is supported by drug companies, including Pfizer, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline, according to the New York Times.

Popular online health quiz RealAge promotes better living through non-medical means, such as taking multi-vitamins, eating breakfast and flossing your teeth.

But the quiz that tells your “real age” based on your behavior and  other health risk factors is supported by drug companies, including Pfizer, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline, according to the New York Times.

The drug companies pay RealAge to compile test results of its users and then email them marketing messages. The drug companies can target you — through RealAge — with drug pitches if you show symptoms of a disease, even if you have not received a diagnosis from your doctor, the Times said.

The online quiz, owned by Hearst Digital Media, has received widespread publicity because of its affiliation with Dr. Mehmet Oz, a popular author and frequent guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Dr. Oz has written several “You” books with Dr. Michael Roizen, the Cleveland Clinic’s chief wellness officer.

The connection between RealAge and drug companies adds to the discussion about conflicts of interest among medical professionals and the pharmaceutical industry. The connection also touches on privacy issues related to medical information.

“Our primary product is an e-mail newsletter series focused on the undiagnosed at-risk patient, so we know the risk factors if someone is prehypertensive, or for osteoarthritis,” Andy Mikulak, vice president for marketing at RealAge, told the Times. “At the end of the day, if you want to reach males over 60 that are high blood pressure sufferers in northwest Buffalo with under $50,000 household income that also have a high risk of diabetes, you could.”

RealAge’s privacy policy does not straightforwardly address its relationship with drug companies, but it does state “we will share your personal data with third parties to fulfill the services the services that you have asked us to provide to you,” the Times said.

Peter Lurie, deputy director of the Health Research Group at consumer advocate Public Citizen has a problem with the way RealAge could use its patrons’ medical information.

“Literally millions of people have unknowingly signed up” for the RealAge newsletter, Lurie said. RealAge “can create a group of people, and hit them up and create anxiety even though the person does not have a diagnosis,” he told the Times.

More stories worth a read:

 Photo of Dr. Mehmet Oz courtesy of Associated Media.