...don't even ignore 'em.
-- Samuel Goldwyn

Friday, July 07, 2006


Last week I followed a Google search link that brought one of you to my post on Lipitor's TV commercial starring Dr. Robert Jarvik, the heart pump inventor, who is apparently the first doctor to perform a paid endorsement for a prescription drug.

Not only did I learn that the spot was filmed on Washington state's Lake Crescent, on the Olympic Peninsula, but that a member of Seattle's Lake Washington Rowing Club was hired through a local casting agency to be the good doctor's body double for the heavy rowing of the commercial shoot. Because, though Robert Jarvik may be a cardiologist and an inventor, he apparently isn't a rower. You can see the talent agency's photos and chatter about the production on their site, and the body double's account in the LWRC's April newsletter. (Here's the auto-download link for the PDF--be warned: it's a big file.)

Just another day at the office for the advertising and commercial production industries--perfectly normal use of paid endorsement, state-of-the-art persuasion techniques and movie magic, in the service of perfectly legal marketing business. But, is it in your best interest to accept the resulting "impression" as health education?

Now, finally, medical professionals are beginning to call out the pharmas and the government on drug ads.

Lipitor, says Northwestern University medical ethicist Katie Watson, is one of the most expensive of the cholesterol-lowering drugs, intended for people who need high-dose treatment. There are many such drugs, and, now, much cheaper generic versions are on their way. But Pfizer, Lipitor's maker, is spending big on TV, in newspapers and magazines, and, presumably, in fees to Dr. Jarvik, to keep Lipitor the bestseller in the field, hoping you and the docs will overlook the fact that there's no evidence it's more effective than any other. Listen to Ms. Watson's entire June 28 NPR commentary on the subject.

The best news I've heard lately is the American Medical Association's new policy on direct-to-consumer drug advertising--read about it in the Orange County Register --the AMA's up to here with it. Maybe we'll hear more from the silent, drug-rep-beleaguered medicos.

But, what about you? What does Robert Jarvik rowing a shell on a mountain lake, or the Cymbalta "Depression Hurts" music, have to do with getting the safest, most effective, most cost effective treatment for what ails you? Shouldn't you be a little more skeptical? It's not education; it's Twenty-First Century sales pitching applied to the practice of medicine. Recognize drug advertising for what it is--selective, manipulative persuasion: hype. Talk sense to yourself--get non-commercial information, then ask your doctor for an uncoerced, scientifically supported, common sense judgment about what's right for you.

Oh, by the way...we may have an answer to the Cymbalta music question. See here.

[Past posts: Jarvik; Cymbalta.]

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