Migraine consumer protection
You can’t Google “migraine” without getting bombarded with ads for goods and services. Everywhere you click, there are promises of relief. How can you tell which ones are legitimate and which are just trying to take advantage of our desperation? Anyone who offers products or services for sale is trying to make money. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve purchased items that were marketed just for migraine patients. Some have worked out well. Others are lying in the bottom of some unmarked box I’ll probably never open again. I don’t blame the salesperson if it didn’t work out.
That’s quite different from getting spammed by unscrupulous marketers who prey on sick people who are desperate for any kind of relief. It’s tough to resist the temptation because this type of marketing plays on the emotions. It promises to reveal THE cause of your pain and offers to CURE your migraine FOREVER. Isn’t that what we all dream of? If only someone could stop it all and let us get back to our lives. What price would you pay for that dream to become a reality? So when someone comes along and makes promises that sound too good to be true, there is a part in all of us that longs to take the chance that they’re right.
Spammers know it.
They exploit our strongest fears and tease us with the fulfillment of our deepest desires. The problem isn’t that they are selling something. The problem is that they often…
Give medical advice.
Health care professionals are prohibited from treating patients with conditions beyond their training and expertise. Medical ethics require them to make referrals when/if they cannot help the patient. Certain health conditions require treatment by a specialist. It is unethical for a medical professional to treat a condition for which they have not been properly trained. The average medical student receives just 4 hours of education on headache disorders. That is not nearly enough time to qualify anyone to treat headache disorders! Specialized post-graduate training is necessary. Anyone who offers medical advice without a medical license (or outside his/her specialty) may be sanctioned or charged with the crime of practicing medicine without a license.
Make medical claims to prevent, treat, or cure a medical condition.
The FDA strictly regulates what types of claims can be made about OTC medicines, supplements, and any device marketed to specific patient groups. The statement, “stop migraines forever” not only offers false hope, but violates FDA rules. It is not unusual for FDA officials to raid laboratories or warehouses and seize products that violate these rules.
Offer “guaranteed” results.
We all know that none of us respond the same way to every treatment. It is impossible to guarantee or promise results. Plus, it’s bad business to make promises you can’t keep.
Use outdated or inaccurate information to sell their product, service or treatment.
References to migraine as “vascular headache” or attributing the cause to “blood vessels” is the fastest way for anyone to lose all credibility with me. If a company can’t even get that right, how can I possibly trust them to understand how to meet my needs as a migraine patient? Another red flag happens when advertisements claim to know the cause of migraine when they are really referring to triggers. Because none of us have exactly the same triggers, no one product, service, or treatment will possibly work 100%. Lastly, using the word “headache” interchangeably with “migraine” tells me that the company really doesn’t understand my condition. How can I possibly do business with someone who claims to solve a problem they don’t really understand?
That’s the problem when marketing to a sick population. Your target market often knows more about the problem you claim to solve than you will ever know. Selling ethically means that the information you provide must be scientifically accurate. It also put you in the crosshairs of FDA oversight.
Clues to spot migraine spam
- Claims to know the cause of migraine
- Promises of a cure
- Refers to migraine as “a headache” without acknowledging associated symptoms
- Recommends treatments that are potentially dangerous
- Promotes migraine myths
- References outdated information
- Refers non-existent diagnoses
- Marketed by physicians who have been sanctioned or lost their license to practice medicine
- Marketed by health care professionals with no training in headache medicine
The problem is bigger than just online spammers
We must use critical thinking when reading about migraine. I recently browsed through the available migraine and headache books at Amazon.com. The results were appalling. I found only SIX titles that I could confidently recommend as trustworthy sources. While there may be others with which I am not familiar, all too many of the titles contained phrases like “cure your headache”, “get rid of migraine forever”, and many more. Many of the titles claimed that this or that special diet would cure migraine. Strangely enough, they weren’t all talking about the same diet!
Being a careful consumer extends to the doctor’s office. Just because it sounds reasonable or appeals to our emotions doesn’t mean that its’ worth paying for. Even doctors can buy into false ideas. The trouble is that they pass on false hope as medical advice, confusing patients even more. This happened to me when I consulted with a self-proclaimed headache specialist who believed the cause of all migraines could be found in the musculoskeletal structures of the neck. While I did actually have neck problems, migraine attacks were unaffected by treatments to correct my neck problems. When I didn’t respond to treatment, all I got were blank stares. A true headache specialist would have continued to work with me to find effective treatment options instead of giving up after one try.
Ultimately, we are responsible for choosing the products, services, and treatments that are best-suited to meet our migraine needs. Critical thinking and a healthy dose of skepticism are necessary. Don’t let anyone use your sense of desperation just to sell you the latest gadget or talk you into an expensive or unnecessary treatment. It’s your life. You have the most at stake so you get to call the shots.