Digital Disruption in Pharma
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Is WebMD Too Cozy with Big Pharma?

Is WebMD Too Cozy with Big Pharma? | Digital Disruption in Pharma |

[Note: "MCC" stands for "Medical Communications Company" - a commercial for-profit entity]


WebMD is the most popular source of health information in the US, and is likely to ​dominate your Google search results for almost any medical question you have. According to its editorial policy, WebMD promises to empower patients and health professionals with "objective, trustworthy, and accurate health information."


But is WebMD actually trustworthy?


The only high-quality study I could find that related to the question of WebMD's independence was published in JAMA in 2013. The researchers looked at which medical communication companies targeting doctors received the most money from 14 pharmaceutical and device companies. They found WebMD, along with its sister site Medscape, were the top recipients of industry dollars (see chart).


I asked James Yeh, a physician-researcher based at Brigham and Women's Hospital who has studied the influence of industry funding on medical information, what this reveals about the site. "This puts [WebMD] in a conflict of interest," he said. "Maybe they are trying to educate the clinician or the public, but at the same time there’s the marketing side: They are also trying to sell a drug."


But over the years, others have questioned — and found reason to critique — the site's cozy ties to drugmakers. In 2010, Sen. Chuck Grassley sent a letter to the site after finding that a WebMD quiz for depression, sponsored by pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, was rigged to suggest everybody who took the test was at risk for major depression. Naturally, that would make them a potential candidate for antidepressants, conveniently manufactured by Eli Lilly.


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Digital Disruption in Pharma
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