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The Columbia Journal
P.O. Box 2633 MPO,
Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada V6B 3W8
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    Demanding Health.

    Dr. Diane Forbes, DC

    It was long ago that I gave up cable television due to a new season that lasted one third of the year followed incessantly by tired reruns.  Because of this I have not seen any of the multimillion-dollar SuperBowl commercials and am shielded from American advertising by the fuzzy signal coming through my rabbit ears.

    This holiday season, however, while resting at my in laws house I saw the future direction of health care presented in the form of pharmaceutical advertising beaming across the border from the American networks. 

    Sure we have all seen the Viagra commercials, men skipping to work or dancing in the street, but have you noticed what little is actually said about the product itself.  In Canada there is legislation that limits advertisers abilities to make specific statements about potential uses for their products. In the US the legislation is less stringent, so we see advertising that suggests symptoms that consumers may recognize in themselves, followed by a recommendation to ask their doctor if “insert name brand here” is right for their health condition.

    The thing about this kind of advertising is that it creates a demand from the patient for new, and generally more expensive therapies to be provided by their physicians.  Care givers who are always looking to improve the conditions of their patients are less likely to say no to these types of demands when in fact the medication is indicated for their patients condition. 

    The problem arises in that there may be little to gain for the patient in this change, but for the pharmaceutical company there is much to be gained.  So much to be gained in fact, that they have no problem complying with the disclosure laws requiring that the advertising list the potential side effects.  In the same 30 seconds you can watch the pitch for a new heart medication, listen to the potential side effects (which list some potentially nasty outcomes), catch the suggestion to request this product, and have the sale closed on how great you will feel after trying this medication.

    Medical product promotion such as this that is not focused on creating demand through the caregiver, but rather through the patient is insidious.  It creates the worst kind of demand for health for health services, that is, uninformed demand.  Sure we can argue that patients now know more about their health than they ever did before, but practitioners know more too. The available information that is accessible is difficult to interpret even for the seasoned professional, and some sources are just not reliable.  Experimental and cutting edge therapies are just that, relatively untested when compared to tried and true therapies. 

    Keeping up to date with your practitioner about the most effective treatment for your particular ailments is the responsibility of each patient.  But the development of the patient as a health consumer is a serious problem as we look to maintain high quality and affordable care.  If the pharmaceutical companies can create a demand for the health consumer to change products, that mimics the shopping habit of a trip to the mall, then they will be laughing all the way to the bank, and we many not be any better for it.

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