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Your chance to help this Men’s Health Week – challenge the Advanced Medical Institute

June 16th, 2010

Dr Petra

AMI advert billboard

June 14 to 20th is Men’s Health week, with numerous practitioners, charities and healthcare organisations hosting events and conciousness raising activities.

One area that probably won’t be falling under any of the public campaigns for Men’s Health Week – but ought to be a priority for us to tackle – is taking on the organisation known as the Advanced Medical Institute.

You may remember I’ve covered this organisation previously. It is notorious within Australia, the UK and other parts of Europe for aggressively selling products to men for erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. Over the past year the number of emails I’ve had from men who’ve had distressing experiences with the company has increased every month, many asking if there is anything I can do to help tackle AMI. As more men have bravely decided to start speaking out against the organisation I think it’s time we offered them some support.

Concerns about AMI are numerous. These include:
- The sales techniques used by the organisation
Men who contact the organisation do speak to a medic (more on this shortly) but mostly discuss the products they want to purchase with salespeople from the organisation. They use particularly emotive and distressing techniques to get men to place an order. I have heard taped conversations with staff from AMI and read transcripts of calls. If men hesitate over purchasing their products AMI staff tell them their wives will leave them or have affairs if they do not buy their products. Salespeople tell men their partners are lying if they’ve not complained about the situation or have been supportive of them. Men are also told they are ‘losers’ for having psychosexual problems. Medics working for the company tell men not to talk to their GP and advise their GP’s won’t know about the products AMI offer and don’t fully understand men’s psychosexual problems. They also wrongly advise men there is no help for psychosexual problems on the NHS. Men who have had experiences with the company have complained of inadequate medical history taking or staff not taking account of existing health problems such as epilepsy. Men calling with psychosexual problems linked to their sexuality, body image etc have told me these issues have been ignored by the company who solely focus on a medical solution and advise against seeking further psychosexual counselling.

None of these activities are ethical or acceptable within clinical practice or psychosexual therapy. A man seeking help and advice needs to be giving a thorough medical check as well as a sensitive sexual history. Factors indicating existing health problems need investigation as do any symptoms or behaviours suggesting psychosexual therapy is more appropriate. Certainly no reputable practitioner would pressure someone into any treatment, nor call anyone struggling with problems a ‘loser’ or threaten their spouse would leave them or cheat if the refused treatment. These aggressive sales techniques are applied only when men appear to be deviating from purchasing AMI products – for example questioning the cost of items or asking whether it’s okay to also speak to their doctor.

-Misleading advertising
Aside from adverts in newspapers and on billboards causing offence, there is some suggestion men see the adverts as a form of helpline. So when they call the organisation it may be unclear it is simply designed to sell a product. Talking to a salesperson on the phone may be confused with a counsellor (partly because they are referred to with titles like ‘clinical co-ordinator’), and because men also talk to a medic who takes their sexual history. This is used to establish the men are eligible to purchase products, not that they necessarily have a psychosexual problem. However this is not clarified to the client. Those who have seen AMI staff at their offices report similar confusion and even greater sales pressure techniques used in face to face settings. If you check the company’s website it implies there is no sales pressure and people can opt out, however this does not happen in practice and those approaching the company through hearing about them from newspapers or billboards have no information on consumer rights.

- Purchasing Policies

Aside from the issues of advertising and sales techniques another major concern about the company is how much it charges for the products it sells. In calls I listened in to last year the salespeople (clinical co-ordinators) were telling clients the product costs “£75 a month with a £399 deposit up front, global cost of that with VAT is £1299 or you can do a one off payment of £999 that’ll save you £300 and that pays for everything in advance”. This is a lot of money for men to pay, however the stigma of sexual problems, fear of seeking medical advice or lack of awareness of where support could be given ensures men may well feel this is their only option. Particularly when aggressive sales techniques are additionally employed. However, men who have had experiences with AMI tell me that the contracts are difficult to break, cash continues to be withdrawn from accounts even if men ask for a refund or explain the products haven’t worked for them. In such cases men are either blamed for the failure of the product, or the company becomes unreachable. Most men I hear from about AMI are extremely distressed by the experience of talking to the company, and upset that the guaranteed refunds they were promised are not honoured. They are ashamed of their condition and using AMI and feel unable to get help from outside organisations to obtain a refund.

- The role of medics

Doctors are employed by AMI. Their job is to take medical histories from men seeking AMI products. Those who call or visit AMI are told the doctor’s medical registration number, although men I’ve talked to say they often don’t realise they ought to note this down. The medical histories taken seem acceptable although the psychosexual histories taken seem somewhat basic. Aside from the ethical question of practitioners working for companies that use aggressive sales techniques and inadequate refund systems, there is also the question that many practitioners working for the company appear to breach medical codes of conduct in the advice they give. For example dissuading men from talking to their GP about physical or mental health problems.

- What is sold

AMI’s website implies they offer a range of therapies, whereas they mainly focus on selling products for erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. While it seems the products sold are genuinely designed for use in these conditions, it is unclear how effective the products for premature ejaculation are – particularly delivered in a nasal spray form. Moreover, there has not been (to my knowledge) any investigation of what products men receive, whether they are genuine or effective. Given that many psychosexual problems are not easily ‘fixed’ with a medical intervention simply providing a product without additional therapy is likely to be ineffective – and may explain why so many men complain the products they get from the company do not work. Alternatively it could be because what they are sold are not effective/genuine products. Further testing would be needed to establish this.

If you’ve been affected by AMI, what can you do?

Contrary to what AMI may have told you, you can get help from your doctor about this. In the UK your GP is able to talk about psychosexual problems and refer you to a therapist on the NHS. Or you can refer yourself to one via BASRT. You should tell your doctor about your experiences with AMI as in many cases the encounter with the company seems to add to men’s distress and psychosexual problems. Certainly you should speak to your GP if you are experiencing erectile problems on a consistent basis as this may indicate other health problems (such as heart disease or diabetes). If you are worried about premature ejaculation therapists can help you learn stress relieving/meditation techniques or encourage using a condom that prolongs sex. More resources about help with premature ejaculation are described in this post.

Trading Standards can offer advice and you can find your nearest office via their website (linked). Suffolk Trading Standards have been particularly helpful and recommended that men also may wish to speak to staff at Consumer Direct for further ideas about making a complaint. You may feel very anxious about discussing such a personal issue but staff are trained to hear about such cases and will be sympathetic and discreet.

If you’re a journalist, blogger, health practitioner or member of the public who wants to take action, what can you do?

Men’s sexual problems are something of a joke, we don’t take them very seriously and the stigma associated with this area is part of the reason men feel unable to frankly talk about their problems or ask for help. While other areas within medicine/healthcare have been tackled by skeptics, medics and activists this particular area and company have not been really addressed. It is time that changed.

You can do several things. If you’re a journalist or blogger you can find out about the company’s sales techniques and investigate medics involved with the company. You can also investigate the company’s policies and practices around refunds as well as what is contained within the products they are providing. You can flag up some of the issues I’ve already highlighted here as more proof of bad practice as well as providing answers to some of the things we don’t fully understand about the company. Let me know if/when you do this and I’ll add links to any activity against AMI on this post.

If you’re a healthcare provider you may also wish to support such investigations, but you may also wish to focus more on making your psychosexual services on offer to men more readily available and accessible. Signposting men to clinics you may run or advice services can be invaluable. As can campaigning for more services on offer for men and their partners.

There are sources of help available to men in the forms of therapists, help groups and General/Family Practice. We need to all do our best to share widely this help is out there.

You can put pressure on newspapers who carry advertisements from AMI to drop these. Again you may wish to speak with Trading Standards about this. Name and shame newspapers who won’t do this.

AMI have been causing distress to men for years in the way they promote and sell their products. We should not let the fact their products are for sex-related problems distract us from the very real harms the company may be causing. Let’s work together and ensure this company is fully investigated and prosecuted as appropriate.

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