Purpose: Direct-to-consumer advertising by industry has been criticized for encouraging overuse of unproven therapies, but advertising by health care providers has not been as carefully scrutinized. Stereotactic radiation therapy is an emerging technology that has sparked controversy regarding the marketing campaigns of some manufacturers. Given that this technology is also being heavily advertised on the Web sites of health care providers, the accuracy of providers' marketing claims should be rigorously evaluated.
Methods: We reviewed the Web sites of all U.S. hospitals and private practices that provide stereotactic radiation using two leading brands of stereotactic radiosurgery technology. Centers were identified by using data from the manufacturers. Centers without Web sites were excluded. The final study population consisted of 212 centers with online advertisements for stereotactic radiation. Web sites were evaluated for advertisements that were inconsistent with advertising guidelines provided by the American Medical Association.
Results: Most centers (76%) had individual pages dedicated to the marketing of their brand of stereotactic technology that frequently contained manufacturer-authored images (50%) or text (55%). Advertising for the treatment of tumors that have not been endorsed by professional societies was present on 66% of Web sites. Centers commonly claimed improved survival (22%), disease control (20%), quality of life (17%), and toxicity (43%) with stereotactic radiation. Although 40% of Web sites championed the center's regional expertise in delivering stereotactic treatments, only 15% of Web sites provided data to support their claims.
Conclusion: Provider advertisements for stereotactic radiation were prominent and aggressive. Further investigation of provider advertising, its effects on quality of care, and potential oversight mechanisms is needed.