B – Quality of advertisements in medical journals

Heimans L, van Hylckama Vlieg A, Dekker FW. Are claims of advertisements in medical journals supported by RCTs? Neth J Med 2010;68(1):46-9

It is well known that most medical journals rely on pharmaceutical advertising for part of their revenue. To provide adequate information for an appropriate prescription, drugs advertising should include a minimum set of information, i.e. an evidence-based description of both benefits and risks.
Heimans et al studied to what extent randomised trials support the claims of advertisements in leading general medical journals (from BMJ to N Eng J Med, from JAMA to Lancet). The study highlights that a balanced information may be missing, claims made in advertisements may not be evidence-based, and RCTs used to support claims may have been sponsored by pharmaceutical industry itself. The results of this study underline that a regulatory code for advertising in medical journal is needed. What could be the role of journal editors in this process? Do they (or are they allowed to) review advertisements provided by the industry before their appearance in the journals?