Does the Medical Community Have Common [Ad]Sense?


A few months ago I started this blog. A few weeks ago I bought a domain name. Today I received an e-mail from my father which included a link to this article. It describes a woman who was able to pay her bills with money she earned using Google AdSense (this was, no doubt, a not-so-subtle response to my asking for help with the rent). I am familiar with AdSense, and was initially intrigued by the prospect of bringing in some extra money by doing something that I enjoy, with little extra effort.

For those who may be unfamiliar, the AdSense website states: “Google AdSense is a free, simple way for website publishers of all sizes to earn money by displaying targeted Google ads on their websites. AdSense also lets you provide Google search to your site users, while earning money by displaying Google ads on the search results pages.”

In short, the program allows you to manage ad layout and content. That is, you can pick the ads your readers are interested in, and filter out unwanted ones. You can display Google-sponsored games, and even install mobile-friendly options. The more views you generate, the more money you earn. There are other options available as well, but it was at this point in the registration process that a number of concerns popped into my head.

It has long been acknowledged that physicians who endorse medical devices or pharmaceuticals for-profit have diminished credibility within the medical community. It seriously impacts their clinical judgment when caring for patients, and undermines the altruistic nature of the medical profession. Great lengths have been taken by medical schools, hospitals, and other institutions to prevent medical students from falling prey to the advertising industry, lest it impair the development of objective clinical skills. Similarly, the medical community fights tirelessly against the medical “experts” who advertise drugs and medical devices to patients with little real credibility other than the information supplied by a third party who also pays the bills.

But that’s old news.

The content of my site would automatically draw medical advertisements from AdSense, which, according to current thought, is a direct conflict of interest (and rightfully so). While, yes, I could filter ad content, I don’t want irrelevant ads littering my site either. I tried searching for blog posts and other articles related to the use of third-party advertisers on physician and medical student websites. I couldn’t find anything useful.

That makes this new business.

I seriously doubt I am the only one who has toyed with the idea of displaying ads on my website. I’d also like to think I’m not the only one who has considered the ethical implications of doing so. Or maybe I’m just overthinking it. Sure, I appreciate a sense of entrepreneurship and the ability to make a couple of extra bucks. I also acknowledge that search engine spam hardly carries with it the influence of a major industry, such as that of pharmaceutical marketing. It’s one of the many gray areas of social media that needs to be clarified, especially as more and more physicians are becoming involved in social media to connect with their patients.

All ethical issues aside, when it comes down to it I didn’t start blogging because I wanted to make money; I started blogging because I am genuinely invested in the medical profession and wish to contribute somehow. And again, perhaps I’m thinking too much into things. However, I’d prefer to err on the side of caution.. at least until my parents stop helping me pay the rent.

About these ads

11 thoughts on “Does the Medical Community Have Common [Ad]Sense?

  1. I’ve seen a few medical blogs which have ads but place their own disclaimer above the ad box. Something prominent along the lines of:

    ‘These ads are automatically generated and do not reflect the views of the blog owner. Please report any questionable content and it will be removed’.

    I think that’s a legitimate way of getting the best of both worlds.

  2. I went through similar considerations with my blog (http://www.hqp.org/blog). There may be no bright line between what’s ethical or unethical in this regard for the casual blogger, particularly if one were to put disclaimers about not implying any endorsement of a product or service just because its ad appears on your site. Health care in the U.S. is so fiercely profit-driven, however, that for a site wanting to establish a credible, independent perspective on what our system needs to change, running ads just seems too ironic to me.

      • Got me with this point- it depends if it supports your goals. For a physician, and especially a would-be physician, credibility is everything. I don’t think it’s unethical, but it definitely saps credibility, if even just a little.

  3. We deal with a similar issue every day within journalism as an industry, and as a newspaper online as well. Our credibility as journalists constantly matters in our day-to-day workings — in the process of writing and researching those stories. We were told in class, for example, that any leanings we had — political, religious, whatever — could never make their way into our objective news stories. And at least that is the hope as we report information to our readers.
    In terms of our newspaper online, we also do not control the content of ads that pop up via Google and the like, and that has earned us a few angry emails and phone calls from visitors to our page. I’ve had to explain that fact to our consumers, as unpleasant as it may be.
    Glad to see the medical profession deals with a similar idea of credibility as well. Good luck as you tackle this issue.
    Addendum: You, miss, are one of my bookmarks. Keep up the great writing.

  4. I’m glad to see someone else debating whether or not to put ads up [though I do see a Google ad peeking out above the comments section, so I assume you decided to go forward with it]. At this point, I feel like there are too many blurry lines for our generation of medical students when it comes to social media — it gets to be a bit overwhelming.

    • Thanks for reading, Amanda! I actually decided to not post any ads.. I’ll have to double check to see if WordPress is the one doing the advertising, or if there is a glitch in the coding. Thanks for pointing it out!

      • Ahhh, my guess is it’s a WordPress thing, since it is still there. Although it seems to be on the entry-specific page, it doesn’t appear on the main one.

  5. Well, you can pick up an ethically neutral static banner ( like lab coats), and get a fixed monthly price from the advertiser. For a blog it is usually $30-50 a month – if you are lucky. So yes, you are over -thinking it and yes, you are right to opt out untill you get THOUSANDS (I am not kidding) unique visitors a day.

    • Hi Alex. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I think it’s an interesting topic, since so many colleagues who are not familiar with blogging or social media think there must be some financial incentive to get involved. Since I’ve written this post, I’ve also found some freelance offers to be more ethically compromising. I find myself turning down articles on medical topics like bariatric surgery, Alzheimer’s, or vitamins because I’m skeptical about the motives behind them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s