About a year after my stroke I went to a Women In Business lunch. I sat next to a woman who ran a residential care home for people who’d had brain injuries. The stroke came up and she asked me what meds I was on. I told her I’d just been switched from Warfarin to Aspirin.
“Ah,” she said, “You’ll make your own mind up on whether you want to stay on that your whole life.”
I didn’t know what she was talking about but I didn’t say so. My neuro says I am on it – just 75mg a day – for life. So I just did what we all do. I went home and googled. I do that a lot.
It seems that long term use of aspirin may have side effects. It might, for example, contribute towards anaemia and stomach ulcers. It might also save me from half a dozen other cancers. In short, there are pros and cons. Quell surprise.
I’m still on the aspirin, in case you’re wondering. It was just one of a number of times when I had to do my own research and make my own decision about a drug. Every few months or so I have to do it with something else. So access to balanced information is important.
Anyway, the point of this post is not aspirin. It’s about the fact I was contacted by a chap called Jeff Jocoy from a website called DrugWatch.com (please don’t grace them with another visitor). Jeff wanted to ask if I’d include a link to their site raising raising awareness on the side effects of Pradaxa (that link goes to wikipedia).
Now, I belong to a couple of forums for younger people who’ve had strokes. From what I see Pradaxa is mentioned by some in the US but I’ve not come across anyone taking it in the UK. That in itself isn’t a surprise. NHS v private healthcare. It happens. So what is Pradaxa?
We all know we should not rely on Wikipedia. But we all know everyone relies on Wikipedia. (In fact when I asked my first neuro about whether i could use a particular drug I caught him looking at wikipedia; “Seriously? I already checked that.“) So if you want info, go ahead and look at Pradaxa on Wikipedia. I can’t promise it’s right, but it is more often than not – and it’s unlikely to be biased or unbalanced… a point to which I will return.
Anyway, Jeff wants you to know more about what DrugWatch think about Pradaxa and wanted me to post a link. [He didn't mention this in itself may improve their Google ranking since the Google algorithm ranks you in search terms, in part, against how many other Google-liked sites link to you for a particular phrase.]
I told Jeff I don’t offer random links. I know first hand what it’s like to be hit with loads of pro/anti/other information at a time you’re really struggling to keep up on a huge learning curve while, remember, your brain is screwed. But I told him I’d consider a guest blog… which bought me some time to check him out.
Here’s what I learned quite fast after having a stroke. Some people genuinely want to help. Some people have an ulterior motive. Jeff has an ulterior motive.
DrugWatch is a site that contains lots of information. But alarm bells always ring in my mind when a site seems to concentrate on the negatives – and DrugWatch is a negative feeling site. I mean, of course drugs are dangerous. If they can do something miraculous (hello, I’m only alive because someone stuck Heparin in my veins for three days), then chances are they can also do things that are bad. That’s why we have trials and those mile long leaflets that tell us all the possible side effects.
So I looked at DrugWatch a bit more closely. Here’s what it says in the “About Us” section:
“Drugwatch.com is a comprehensive resource about dangerous side effects and complications from commonly prescribed drugs and oft-used medical devices. Our mission is to educate people about medications they take and the devices that are in their bodies and then to provide resources to help people evaluate whether they have a legal case because of life-changing side effects or complications.”
They also have entries on some mass (US) lawsuits, including one on Pradaxa (that link is to USA Today).
Right. Well, now I’m wondering what this is all about. Is this an information site or some kind of front for something else? So I looked DrugWatch.com up on Bloomberg Business Week. It says this:
“Drugwatch.com is a portal that offers information on diseases, treatments and experiences. The portal targets patients their carers and healthcare professionals. Drugwatch.com is headquartered in Stockport, United Kingdom.”
Which is really weird because the Drugwatch.com website suggests all it’s key people are American journalists (scroll to the bottom of About Us).
So now I’m intrigued. I briefly wonder if I should just ask Jeff what the deal is.
But I’m on a roll.
So I did what we all do… I looked their ‘key people’ up on LinkedIn.
What I find there is just weirder. Instead of finding the people I’m looking for, I quickly wind up looking at people who are working for a company called AMAG LLC. AMAG build content heavy websites and market them for their clients so that the general public will be led to their clients’ sites by their information searches.
Had Drugwatch been created by AMAG so that people would be led to a specific company? And was this company involved in the lawsuits that were mentioned on the DrugWatch site? Because if it does, that feels like a complete “front” to me, and rather underhand…
And does Jeff think that because I’ve had a stroke I’m now stupid?
I googled a bit more. And I found this on Get Better Health:
“I don’t know about the rest of you medical bloggers, but I’ve been getting emails from folks who run a website called DrugWatch.com asking for reciprocal links and promoting themselves as the go-to place for patients to get up-to-date information on medication safety. Tucked into the website is this promise: “We will never accept advertising from the pharmaceutical industry.” Right. Because the whole site is a front for a bunch of Orlando lawyers trying to sniff out potential clients for medication-related lawsuits against the pharmaceutical industry.”
Hmm. Interesting accusation. For my sins, at this point I start to wonder if Jeff Jocoy is even real.
So I googled.
The only Jeff Jocoy on LinkedIn is a construction worker from Texas. There’s also this Jeff Jocoy, whom I’ve never heard of. But weird… a professional and senior ”public outreach” person who’s not on Linked In?
How does that happen?
Especially since, if you google him, he’s written to dozens of websites with virtually the same emails and responses as he’s sent me.
So I emailed him and asked him who funds DrugWatch.com. I thought I already knew, but I wanted him to tell me. And he did at least tell the truth.
DrugWatch.com is funded by The Peterson Firm. A law firm that appears to concentrate on class action lawsuits. [That always makes me think of that Matt Damon film where he refers to himself as an 'ambulance chaser'. Hmmm, must stop thinking about Matt Damon...]
So, where was I? Basically, let me see if I have this right:
- Jeff may or may not be the real name of a person who represents DrugWatch.com
- DrugWatch.com is a high content marketing site created and run by AMAG
- AMAG works for The Peterson Firm
- The Peterson firm exists to make pursue legal class actions
- Class legal actions are a big money maker in the US
- DrugWatch doesn’t really exist outside of a URL. It’s purpose is not to give balanced information, but to harness people into class action lawsuit clients for Peterson
- I’ve seen Erin Brocovitch: I don’t have a problem with class actions per se. They aren’t a ‘thing’ here in England but we don’t mind big companies paying for mistakes. And, well, we really love Julia Roberts.
- We have the BBC here: it’s not entirely perfect but we’re really proud that our main news service tries to make sure that what we hear is balanced and unbiased. It conditions us to hate one-sided information since it rarely presents the whole truth. (We love Piers Morgan too, but he never worked for the BBC so please don’t use him as a benchmark.)
- If we suspect you’ve been underhand, we won’t like you very much. (Have you heard about the Leveson enquiry? It was big news here.)
The thing is, if Jeff had emailed and said, “Hi, you may not be aware but there is a class action suit against Pradaxa going on. If you know anyone who is on it, or was on it, or might be interested in it, can you send them this link,” I might have done that for him. If the Peterson company just put the information that’s on DrugWatch on their site I’d think that was absolutely a-ok.
But I will not link to the site he suggests. I won’t do it because people who’ve had strokes – actually, no, just people – need balanced information to make life-important decisions. What they absolutely don’t need is biased information masquerading as unbiased information. That’s just not ok.
Key message: if you need life essential information you’re going to be so much better off starting Wikipedia, NHS Direct or Web MD and going from there…
And if you want to join a class action for Pradaxa and you don’t know where to start, please could you pick a website like PradaxaLitigation.com or PradaxaLawsuitCentre.com to research it over one like DrugWatch? I’ve no idea what those companies are like or if they are any good, but at least they have the grace to be honest about who and what they are from their very URLs.
Note: I offered Jeff the chance to correct any factual inaccuracies before publication. He didn’t seem too upset and offered the following clarifications:
- Jeff is a real person and he lives in Florida, USA
- www.jeffjocoy.com is actually his personal website outside of his day job
- The Peterson Firm is located in the US. Jeff thinks the Bloomberg article must have been referencing the previous owners of the DrugWatch URL