Who Cares: Sources of Information
About
Health Care Products and Services

A Publication from the Federal Trade Commission
and the National Association of Attorneys General

Introduction

Every day, millions of senior citizens face questions about health-related products and services they see in the marketplace, get in the mail, read about in the newspaper, and hear about on radio and television. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for consumers to tell the difference between facts and fiction when it comes to selecting a health care product or service.

The Federal Trade Commission and your state Attorney General, as well as other agencies and organizations, can help you see through misleading or deceptive claims and protect your consumer rights.

The FTC and your state Attorney General have written this booklet to help you learn how to spot misleading or deceptive claims and where to get information; whether you're managing your own health care or that of a family member or a friend. We hope it will encourage you to ask questions and speak out if your instincts tell you that something about a health care product or service may not measure up to its promise.

Hearing Aids

"My hearing aid doesn't work too well. The dealer won't repair it to my satisfaction, even though his advertisement said the hearing aid was guaranteed. He hasn't given me a refund either. What can I do?"

More than 24 million Americans have some type of hearing impairment. Many people can benefit from a hearing aid, but not everyone. How will you know? The process begins with a careful fitting by a qualified audiologist or seller. Be sure to ask about a trial period when you can test the aid for free. Ask about guarantees and warranties, too. It's important to get these in writing.

Regulations that cover many important aspects of hearing aid sales for consumers are enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. One regulation requires that you are told about the need for a medical evaluation by a physician before you buy an aid; another requires that aids come with instruction books covering use, maintenance, and repair.

WHO CARES:
YOUR STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL


THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
Division of Marketing Practices
6th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, D.C 20580 202-326-3128


THE FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION
Consumer Affairs Information Line 1-800-532-4440 (toll-free)

AMERICAN SPEECH-LANGUAGE-HEARING ASSOCIATION Consumer Hot Line 1-800-638-8255 (toll-free)


NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DEAFNESS
AND OTHER COMMUNICATION DISORDERS
INFORMATION CLEARINGHOUSE
1-800-241-1044 (toll-free/voice)


Switching Prescriptions

"I've been taking a prescription drug that really helps control a chronic problem. The pharmacist just called to say that my doctor switched me to a different drug. He says the switch will save me money because it will cost my drug-benefit plan less. But I don't know why I should switch. The new drug might not work as well. Am I giving up quality just to save the drug plan a few cents? Can I talk to my drug man about refusing the switch?"

In the past few years, many prescription drug companies have formed business relationships with pharmacy groups and insurance companies that handle drug-benefit plans. In some cases, pharmacies and insurers receive rebates or other financial incentives when they convince a plan member to switch to a different drug made by a "partner" manufacturer. If you are uncomfortable about making a switch, call the Food and Drug Administration, your local Department of Health, or your local Board of Pharmacy. They can help you decide whether it makes sense to change your medication.

Meantime, you may want to ask your pharmacist or physician a few important questions: Will the new drug work as well for your condition? Are there different side effects or risks? Are the dosage levels the same? Is there a business connection between the pharmacist and the drug manufacturer? Will the switch save you or your benefit plan money or cost you money?

WHO CARES:


YOUR STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL
THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
Division of Service Industry Practices
6th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20580 202-326-3305


THE FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION
Consumer Affairs Information Line
1-800-532-4440 (toll-free)


NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON AGING INFORMATION CENTER
1-800-222-2225 (toll-free/voice)
1-800-222-4225 (toll-free TTY)

YOUR LOCAL DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

YOUR LOCAL BOARD OF PHARMACY

AMERICAN PHARMACEUTICAL ASSOCIATION Patient Information 1-800-237-2742 (toll-free)

U.S. PHARMACOPEIA 1-800-488-2665 (toll-free)


AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF RETIRED PERSONS
601 E Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20049
202-434-2277

Nursing Facilities

"My father is in a nursing facility. I'm really worried about him. He's losing weight. He seems disoriented. I hope he is receiving decent care. But how can I find out? Who can I talk to? What can I do?"

Every nursing home should have a complaint procedure policy. If you have concerns or complaints, ask about the policy and follow the organization's procedures. You also may want to ask the nurse in charge to review your family member's care plan. If you still are uncomfortable with the situation, speak to the director of nursing, the social worker, or the administrator or check to see if the nursing home has a family council, a group of advocates who try to improve the quality of life in the home.

Often, nursing homes operated by large corporations have toll-free telephone numbers you can use to speak to a regional supervisor.

WHO CARES:

STATE OMBUDSMAN

STATE DEPARTMENT OF LICENSING AND CERTIFICATION

STATE OR LOCAL OFFICE ON AGING

STATE HEALTH OR WELFARE DEPARTMENT

YOUR STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL

U.S. ADMINISTRATION ON AGING Eldercare Locator 1-800-677-1116 (toll-free)

AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF HOMES AND SERVICES FOR THE AGING 1-800-508-9442 (toll-free)

NATIONAL CITIZENS COALITION FOR NURSING HOME REFORM
1424 16th Street, NW, Suite 202
Washington, D.C 20036-2211
202-332-2275

Alternative Medicines

"My brother has been diagnosed with cancer. He wants to find out about alternative medicine as a possible treatment. He has seen ads for a clinic that claims to have an amazing success rate using unconventional approaches to cure many forms of cancer and other serious ailments. Should he believe them?"

Many unconventional treatments for cancer and other diseases are on the market. A few have undergone rigorous scientific testing for their curative value. Many that have been tested don't show effectiveness. Still, some forms of alternative therapy are recognized as helpful in caring for patients and helping them cope with some illnesses.

Usually, a primary care physician is the best source of information about alternative medicine as a supplement to conventional treatments. If someone tries to sell you an alternative treatment by promising that it is effective, ask for a copy of the studies that prove it. Then ask your primary care physician or family doctor to review the studies to determine their credibility.

If you think you've been misled by advertisements for either alternative medicine or conventional treatments, be cautious and complain.

WHO CARES:

YOUR STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL

THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
Division of Service Industry Practices
6th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20580
202-326-3305

THE FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION Consumer Affairs Information Line 1-800-532-4440 (toll-free)

NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE Cancer Information Service 1-800-422-6237 (toll-free)

AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY 1-800-227-2345 (toll-free)

Cataract Surgery

"My vision is getting worse. Things look pretty foggy. It's hard for me to drive at night because headlights really bother me. Today's newspaper had an ad about a large medical center that specializes in cataract surgery. The ad says the surgery is simple and has no risks. The center guarantees that patients will be able to see perfectly after surgery. I don't know what to do."

Cataracts are a normal part of aging; they usually develop over time and don't have to be removed immediately. You generally can wait to have the surgery until your vision begins to bother you.

If your doctor tells you that you have a cataract, ask whether you need surgery right away, what your risks are based on your general health, and what type of surgery may be appropriate for you, should you choose it.

Be suspicious of any promotion promising completely successful, risk-free cataract surgery. Cataract surgery has a very high success rate, but no surgery is free from risk. Serious complications are rare, but when they do occur, they could result in loss of vision.

WHO CARES:

YOUR STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL

THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
Division of Service Industry Practices
6th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20580
202-326-3305

NATIONAL EYE INSTITUTE Bethesda, MD 20892 301-496-5248

NATIONAL SOCIETY TO PREVENT BLINDNESS 1-800-331-2020 (toll-free)

AMERICAN ACADEMY OF OPHTHALMOLOGY National Eye Care Project Helpline 1-800-222-3937 (toll-free)

THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR VISION AND AGING 1-800-334-5497 (toll-free)

PREVENT BLINDNESS AMERICA 1-800-331-2020 (toll-free)

Arthritis Cure

"I saw an ad in the paper that said, 'CURE YOUR ARTHRITIS WITHOUT DRUGS WITH THIS ALL-NATURAL, GOVERNMENT-APPROVED REMEDY.' The idea of a 'natural' remedy appeals to me and I'm impressed that the ad says the product is 'approved' by a government agency. But I think these so-called cures sometimes promise more than they can deliver. How can I get more information about products like this?"

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Health Information Center can help you get in touch with public and private groups that have information about traditional and alternative therapies for arthritis and other conditions. Your public library also may have a computer link to provide you with direct access to the National Health Information Center.

To check on whether a product is "government approved," to learn more about an over-the-counter drug, prescription drug, cosmetic, or medical device, or to report an adverse reaction to any of these products, call the Food and Drug Administration's Consumer Affairs Information Line. For the latest information on vitamins and nutritional supplements, call the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

WHO CARES:

YOUR STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL

THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
Division of Advertising Practices
6th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20580
202-326-3131

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES National Health Information Center 1-800-336-4797 (toll-free)

THE FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION Consumer Affairs Information Line 1-800-532-4440 (toll-free)

THE FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition 1-800-332-4010 (toll-free)

Direct-Mail Schemes

"Someone sent me a newspaper clipping with a product that's supposed to reverse the effects of aging. On the article was a handwritten note that said, 'Try this. It works! R.' I don't know who R is. Is this product on the level? What should I do?"

Some direct-mail marketers advertise their products through ads disguised as "clippings" sent by unnamed "friends." The fact is that R doesn't exist. The company got your name from a mailing list and sent the note from R to you and thousands of other consumers.

Other popular tricks are to design the envelope to look like a check or letter from a government agency, or to mimic the style of urgent overnight mail deliveries.

If a company uses a deceptive tactic on the outside of an envelope, be skeptical about what's inside, too. Report any questionable solicitation you receive in the mail to your local Postmaster or Postal Inspector. Check the phone book for the phone number.

WHO CARES:

CHIEF POSTAL INSPECTOR
United States Postal Service
Washington, D.C.
202-268-4298

YOUR STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL

THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION Division of Advertising Practices 6th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., NW Washington, D.C. 20580 202-326-3131

NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON AGING Information Center 1-800-222-2225 (toll-free/voice) 1-800-222-4225 (toll-free/TTY)

Abusive Care-Givers

"I have a home health aide who cooks for me because I live alone and I can't cook for myself anymore. Her cooking is so bad that sometimes I can't eat what she makes. She hits me. I'm afraid to tell anyone because the agency never does anything about it when my friends complain about their aides. I'm afraid no one will believe me. If I report her and she finds out, she'll hurt me more. I don't know what to do."

No one should be abused- physically or verbally- by anyone, including family members or care-givers. Everyone has the right to feel safe and secure in their own home. If you or someone you know is being abused in any way, report it. Everyone has the right to be protected.

WHO CARES:

YOUR LOCAL POLICE, SHERIFF'S OFFICE, OR STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL

YOUR STATE DEPARTMENT OF AGING

U.S. ADMINISTRATION ON AGING
Eldercare Locator
1 -800-677-1116 (toll-free)

Who to Contact if You are Deceived

Think you've been mislead or deceived by an advertisement for a health care product or service or a medical procedure? Contact your state Attorney General, or the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, DC or at one of the 10 FTC regional offices.

1718 Peachtree Street, NW, Suite 1000
Altanta, GA 30367
404-347-4836

101 Merrimac Street, Suite 810
Boston, MA 02114
617-424-5960

55 East Monroe Street, Suite 810 Chicago, IL 60603 312-353-4423

668 Euclid Avenue, Suite 520-A Cleveland, OH 44114 216-522-4207

1999 Bryan Street, Suite 2150 Dallas, TX 75201 214-979-0213

1961 Stout Street, Suite 1523 Denver, CO 80294 303-844-2271

11000 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 13209 Los Angeles, CA 90024 310-235-4000

150 William Street, Suite 1300 New York, NY 10038 212-264-1207

901 Market Street, Suite 570 San Francisco, CA 94103 415-356-5270

2806 Federal Building 915 Second Avenue Seattle, WA 98174 206-220-6363

Federal Trade Commission 6th Street & Pennsylvania Ave., NW Room 403 Washington, D.C. 20580

World Wide Web Site at: http:\\www.ftc.gov

Your State Attorney General Office of Consumer Protection for Your State Capital

(Many Attorneys General have toll-free consumer hotlines. Check with your local directory assistance.)