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Open Access Correspondence

Hormone Replacement Therapy advertising: sense and nonsense on the web pages of the best-selling pharmaceuticals in Spain

Elisa Chilet-Rosell12*, Marta Martín-Llaguno3, María Teresa Ruiz-Cantero12 and Pablo Alonso-Coello24

Author affiliations

1 Preventive Medicine and Public Health Department, Universidad de Alicante, Alicante, Spain

2 CIBER of Epidemiology and Public Health (CIBERESP), Spain

3 Department of Audiovisual Communication and Publicity Department, Universidad de Alicante, Alicante, Spain

4 Iberoamerican Cochrane Centre, Clinical Epidemiology and Public Health Department, Hospital Sant Pau, Barcelona, Spain

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2010, 10:134  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-134

Published: 16 March 2010

Abstract

Background

The balance of the benefits and risks of long term use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have been a matter of debate for decades. In Europe, HRT requires medical prescription and its advertising is only permitted when aimed at health professionals (direct to consumer advertising is allowed in some non European countries). The objective of this study is to analyse the appropriateness and quality of Internet advertising about HRT in Spain.

Methods

A search was carried out on the Internet (January 2009) using the eight best-selling HRT drugs in Spain. The brand name of each drug was entered into Google's search engine. The web sites appearing on the first page of results and the corresponding companies were analysed using the European Code of Good Practice as the reference point.

Results

Five corporate web pages: none of them included bibliographic references or measures to ensure that the advertising was only accessible by health professionals. Regarding non-corporate web pages (n = 27): 41% did not include the company name or address, 44% made no distinction between patient and health professional information, 7% contained bibliographic references, 26% provided unspecific information for the use of HRT for osteoporosis and 19% included menstrual cycle regulation or boosting feminity as an indication. Two online pharmacies sold HRT drugs which could be bought online in Spain, did not include the name or contact details of the registered company, nor did they stipulate the need for a medical prescription or differentiate between patient and health professional information.

Conclusions

Even though pharmaceutical companies have committed themselves to compliance with codes of good practice, deficiencies were observed regarding the identification, information and promotion of HRT medications on their web pages. Unaffected by legislation, non-corporate web pages are an ideal place for indirect HRT advertising, but they often contain misleading information. HRT can be bought online from Spain, without a medical consultation or prescription constituting a serious issue for public health. In our information society, it is the right and obligation of public health bodies to ensure that such information is not misleading.