The CEO of HealthFair, which offers mobile heart screenings in partnership with Cincinnati Mercy Health hospitals, says he welcomes a review of advertisements that consumer advocates call unethical, according to the Cincinnati Business Courier.
The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen last week sent a letter asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate HealthFair for false advertising. HealthFair's ads, the group claims, are "medically inappropriate and unethical" because their target audience is not at significant risk or manifesting symptoms indicating a need for the tests.
Mercy Health spokesperson Nanette Bentley countered that many providers in the Cincinnati area offer heart screenings, and patients who are at low risk are informed of that fact, but "ultimately, the decision to participate is up to the patient," she told the publication.
However, Michael Carome, co-author of the letter, told the Business Courier that the misleading claims in the advertisements influence consumer decisions.
The letter further claims the advertising features unconfirmed claims that the screenings save thousands of lives and prevent 1,000 heart attacks and strokes each year. HealthFair CEO Terry Diaz conceded the claims were unproven, but said the company has "thousands of testimonials from patients" saying the screenings saved their lives.
"We took some liberties in the advertising … and said this is really a testimonial from patients," Diaz told the Business Courier. "If that is [something] that the FTC says is a concern, that would be a part of the advertising materials we would change."
The FTC has since said it will review Public Citizen's complaint, Carome told the Business Courier.
Hospitals should be wary of the fine line between self-promotion and false advertising as well, according to a brief published last year. While a hospital advertising itself as "best" is too subjective to be considered false advertising, wrote Kathleen Rheintgen, senior counsel with Husch Blackwell, hospitals can be held liable for claims such as "Our nurses score highest in satisfaction surveys" if they are objectively false, FierceHealthcare previously reported.