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US direct-to-consumer medical service advertisements fail to provide adequate information on quality and cost of care
  1. Sung-Yeon Park1,
  2. Gi Woong Yun2,
  3. Sarah Friedman1,
  4. Kylie Hill1,3,
  5. So Young Ryu1,
  6. Thomas L Schwenk4,
  7. Max J Coppes5,6
  1. 1 School of Community Health Sciences, University of Nevada Reno, Reno, Nevada, USA
  2. 2 Reynold School of Journalism, University of Nevada Reno, Reno, Nevada, USA
  3. 3 Center for Biobehavioral Health, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, Ohio, USA
  4. 4 Dean, University of Nevada School of Medicine, Reno, Nevada, USA
  5. 5 Physician-in-Chief, Renown Childrens' Hospital, Reno, Nevada, USA
  6. 6 Pediatrics, University of Nevada School of Medicine, Reno, Nevada, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr. Sung-Yeon Park, School of Community Health Sciences, University of Nevada Reno, Reno, NV 89557, USA; syp{at}


Background In the 1970s, the Federal Trade Commission declared that allowing medical providers to advertise directly to consumers would be “providing the public with truthful information about the price, quality or other aspects of their service.” However, our understanding of the advertising content is highly limited.

Objective To assess whether direct-to-consumer medical service advertisements provide relevant information on access, quality and cost of care, a content analysis was conducted.

Method Television and online advertisements for medical services directly targeting consumers were collected in two major urban centres in Nevada, USA, identifying 313 television advertisements and 200 non-duplicate online advertisements.

Results Both television and online advertisements reliably conveyed information about the services provided and how to make an appointment. At the same time, less than half of the advertisements featured insurance information and hours of operation and less than a quarter of them contained information regarding the quality and price of care. The claims of quality were substantiated in even fewer advertisements. The scarcity of quality and cost information was more severe in television advertisements.

Conclusion There is little evidence that medical service advertising, in its current form, would contribute to lower prices or improved quality of care by providing valuable information to consumers.

  • journalism/mass media
  • codes of/position statements on professional ethics
  • ethics

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  • Contributors All authors, SP, GY, SF, KH, SR, TS and MC made substantial contributions to the research, including report writing. More specifically, SP, GY, SF and MC created the conceptual framework and designed the study. SP, GY and KH worked on the data collection and analysis. SR contributed to the high-level data analysis and interpretation. TS contributed to the modification of the conceptual framework and data interpretation. All seven authors made significant intellectual contribution to the report writing for both the original and the revised manuscripts and approved the revised version before resubmission. All seven authors also agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

  • Funding This study was supported by US National Science Foundation #1759113.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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