HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Consumer Reports Announces “Evidence-Based Ratings for Medical Treatments, Drugs and Natural Medicines”

Consumer Reports announced this week the debut of its web service called ConsumerReportsHealth.org. The web site offers the following:  

 

▪ Natural Medicine Ratings for over 20,000 herbs, vitamins and nutritional supplements;

▪ Treatment Ratings for over 200 common medical and mental health conditions, including allergies, depression, back pain, and high cholesterol, among many others;

▪ Drug Reviews for most prescription and over-the-counter drugs, featuring recommendations for low-cost drugs that are as safe and effective as more expensive drugs;

▪ Diet, nutrition and fitness product reviews and ratings; and,

▪ Patient Ratings of over 3,400 hospitals, to help consumers better compare and choose hospitals.

 

This new, interactive web site has several potential benefits. The most important is the help that ConsumerReportsHealth.org could offer to consumers in making day-to-day choices on how to spend limited resources to manage their health. The goal of this new web tool is to give consumers of health products and services the same expertise and independence that Consumer Reports has used to rate cars, electronics and appliances for more than 70 years. For those consumers who struggle to make sense out of all of the advertising hype that surrounds health care products, and for those who try to make provider choices with little to no information on the quality of health care services, Consumer Reports may provide an unbiased, fact-based resource.

 

This service is also important to overall quality of care. With Consumer Reports finally entering the health care scene, the evidence-based treatment movement is likely to gain even more momentum toward replacing eminence-based treatment.  

 

The third detail that jumps out from this announcement comes from both the headline that refers to dietary supplements as “Natural Medicines” and from the following description:

 

This new, interactive Web site empowers you to make better healthcare decisions on a daily basis! For example, ever wonder about the effectiveness and safety of the natural remedies you take to lose weight or soothe your cold? The Natural Medicine Ratings on ConsumerReportsHealth.org provide comprehensive, accurate information for over 20,000 herbs, vitamins and nutritional supplements, to prevent and treat a variety of conditions. [emphasis added].

Consumer Reports does its job and 'says it like it is' by calling those “dietary supplements” that are being marketed as treatments for abnormal health conditions “medicines.” This acknowledgment highlights a growing problem. There are currently far too many “dietary supplements” that are being marketed to the unhealthy and vulnerable by making health treatment, recovery or remedy claims without demonstrating through the FDA premarket approval that these products are both safe and effective.

This new Consumer Reports web site may be able to partially accomplish what the FDA has failed to do in the area of “dietary supplements” – it may act to protect at least some unhealthy, vulnerable consumers from spending limited resources on “dietary supplements” that claim to treat unhealthy conditions but that just don’t work. For more on this problem, see Post 1 in Series: The Relationship Between the Level of Government Regulation under the FDCA and the Health Status of a Product’s Targeted Population

[KVT]

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