I’ve noticed that many drug brand web sites are frequently updated. Most often, new video ads are added. Sometimes, as with the case of the YAZ US web site, a poll that was not really a poll is deleted (see “Despite FDA Warning Letter, YAZ Web Site Still Connects YAZ with Treatment of Acne!“) or a self-assessment quiz to see if you need the drug being advertised is added.

One such quiz is the Viagra.com “Rate Your Sexual Health” self-assessment quiz. This was new to me, so I took it!

Being completely honest as I always am, I scored a 22 out 25 — not 100%, but just high enough that the result was that I have no signs of ED (erectile dysfunction). “But be sure to talk to your doctor if your situation changes” said Viagra.com.

If, on the other hand, I answer 3 of the five questions with a less-than-perfect response, I get a score of 21 out of 25 (84%), which puts me in the category of having a “mild” case of ED and a recommendation that I talk to my doctor about it, print the quiz results, and bring them with me to show the doctor (see screen shot on left; click on it for an enlarged view).

Let’s put aside for now exactly how I answered the 5 questions in this quiz. The question I have is “What is the scientific basis for this self-assessment?” Are the questions and rating structure something that Viagra marketers have just dreamed up? Or is the quiz based on an independent, medically-approved source?

The problem is that Pfizer does not reveal the source of this rating system and I can’t judge whether or not to trust the results.

This goes against “patient-empowerment” principles by not providing me with enough information to make an informed decision. It also violates at least one of the standards set by URAC — a non-profit organization founded in 1990 to establish standards for the healthcare industry — for health web site accreditation. Specifically it violates URAC standard #16 regarding personal health management tools, which applies to Web sites that offer users self-assessment or risk analysis tools (you can read more about these standards and why I think drug web site should comply with them in this FREE Pharma Marketing News article: “A Case for Pharmaceutical Web Site Accreditation“).

URAC Std #16 states:

Where the Web Site offers any personal health management tools, the Web site:

(a) Discloses their source;

(b) Appropriately describes the scientific basis in plain language for their operation;

(c) Describes how the Web site maintains the personal health management tools, including:

(i) A description of the evaluation process; and
(ii) The date of the last review or update.

(d) Includes a disclaimer that the information produced by the tool is not intended to replace the evaluation of a health care professional.

With regard to (d) above, the Viagra.com site does say that “Only your doctor can confirm that you have ED” and it includes this disclaimer near the bottom of every page: “The health information contained herein is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace discussions with a healthcare provider. All decisions regarding patient care must be made with a healthcare provider, considering the unique characteristics of the patient.”

Of course, URAC standards are completely voluntary. But shouldn’t drug product web sites abide by the same high ethical standards that other health web sites — such as WebMD — comply with?

BTW, when I search WebMD for “erectile dysfunction self-assessment” I am led to its “Erectile Dysfunction Health Center,” which is sponsored by Viagra ads.

WebMD’s Erectile Dysfunction Health Center is sponsored by Viagra (click on image for an enlarged view)

Under “Top Search Terms for Erectile Dysfunction” I found “ED Self-Test.” Unfortunately, when I click on that there is no self-test to be found. Instead, I am referred to information about real medical diagnostic tests.

Perhaps WebMD chose NOT to include an ED self-test because there are none that would meet the requirements of URAC’s accreditation standards, which WebMD complies with.

As opposed to the Viagra.com quiz, information on WebMD would indicate that a score of 22 does NOT mean I have ED or need treatment:

“Failure to achieve an erection less than 20% of the time is not unusual and treatment is rarely needed. Failure to achieve an erection more than 50% of the time, however, generally indicates there is a problem requiring treatment.”

On the Viagra.com quiz, I answered “Most times (much more than half the time)” when asked sexually-tintillating questions such as “When you had an erection with sexual stimulation, how often were they hard enough for penetration (entering your partner)?” and “During sexual intercourse, how often were you able to maintain your erection after you had penetrated your partner?”

“A much more common problem that affects the majority of men at some point in their life,” says WebMD, “is the occasional failure to achieve an erection, which can occur for a variety of reasons, such as from drinking too much alcohol or from being extremely tired.”

My advice: Don’t take the Viagra.com “Rate Your Sexual Health” self-assessment quiz while under the influence of alcohol or after 10 hours on the night shift!

Disclaimer: I am not a URAC consultant but I do provide health web sites consulting services to help them come into compliance with URAC standards. For more information about this see “VirSci’s Health Web Site Accreditation Assistance Fact Sheet.”