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