Sunday, February 10, 2008

I'm Not a Cardiologist, I Just Play One on Television

A news item featured by AOL caught my eye this morning. You may have seen it as well.
It was an article that appeared in the NY Times earlier this week about those ads that Dr. Robert Jarvik has been doing for Lipitor, the cholesterol drug. Lipitor is not only Pfizer's biggest seller; it is, according to the article, the world's best selling drug. (I assume "drug"  is, in this instance, a wistful euphemism for "legal drug.") Having cholesterol issues myself, due primarily to a genetic predisposition to eating pizza and hot dogs, the ads - more precisely, Dr. Jarvik's participation in them - held great interest for me. Though obviously a paid endorsement, this is one of medicine's most respected professionals, developer of the artificial heart, for goodness sake, not some b-list tv actor trying to pay the mortgage in between sitcom jobs. I'm not big on endorsements in general, but clearly Dr. Jarvik's would be one to take seriously.
While the value of Dr. Jarvik's contributions to medicine cannot be questioned, the article makes a few points that, given his high standing in the medical community, shake the foundation of credible endorsement. It turns out that while he is an accomplished researcher, Dr. Jarvik is not a cardiologist, is not licensed to practice medicine and can't prescribe Lipitor or any other medication. The ad even goes so far as to show the good doctor, as someone who himself takes Lipitor, performing athletic activities that, we now learn, were actually done by a body double. (What's the message here: take Lipitor and you, too, can get your cholesterol low enough to hire a body double?) We expect - and accept - a certain amount of misdirecting rhetoric in ads generally, of course, even those that pitch prescription medicines directly to consumers. The problem is that when the spokesman is a widely respected medical professional it would seem reasonable to expect it's because a higher standard is being followed. 
While some endorsements of products or even political candidates by celebrities, politicians, and celebrity-politicians are more laughable than others (coughcoughChuckNorriscoughcough), we know not to take any of them too seriously. (Ok, I'm an optimist.) We need to be able to trust doctors more than we do entertainment personalities; when we find out that Dr. Jarvik's qualifications to endorse Lipitor may be limited to his having been prescribed it by another doctor - presumably, one who is licensed to practice medicine - it's disquieting to say the least.
Here, by the way, is a link to the NY Times article:
Unrelated Item:
On February 15, a movie called "The Spiderwick Chronicles" is scheduled to be released. I know nothing at all about this movie, but since it has the word Chronicles in the title I figure I should start getting e-mails pretty soon either telling me our children will be saved from Satan if I see it, or that the world as we know it will be destroyed and everyone (except, of course, the folks who agree to forward the e-mail to everyone they know) will be banished to eternal damnation if I see it. I'll decide what to do after I see the endorsements.


lv2trnscrb said...

fascinating about Robert Jarvik; I had missed this on AOL; I'll be interested in following it to see where it goes, if anywhere

enjoy the day


oldhousegal said...

My goal is to make it into extreme old age with NO drugs.  Right now the only thing I take is Nexium and I'm hoping to be able to give that up as soon as I get the reflux under control.  My doc says it takes a while even if you make all the necessary lifestyle changes, which I have.

And that's why we want the drugs in the first place, isn't it, to avoid those dreaded words:  "Lifestyle Change."  Any drug and any surgery is preferable to saying no to a second slice of cake.  So we stay glued to the couch, vowing that we'll start that new exercise program "tomorrow."  I'm sorry if I sound smug -- I don't mean to.  It's just that I see this dynamic in my life everyday and people are stubborn in wanting to have their cake and eat it too.

What bothers me more is stuff like the fact that my health insurance company will pay for Lipitor until the cows come home, but they won't pay for me to see a nutritionist who is helping me learn to eat right.  Does that make any sense?

frankandmary said...

I've managed an ophthalmology practice & a neurology practice.  At the former, I'd have patients call: I'm not sure but my eye doctor says I don't need surgery,my eye isn't getting any better though.  
Upon further clarification, the "doctor" who said that would invariably be an optometrist at EYE DOCTOR in the mall.  Optometrists can't do surgery(thankfully), so I don't think they are qualified to decide whether or not you need one.
At the latter practice, patients would say: My back doctor says I need adjustments, but I've had them for months with no real improvement.  The "back doctor" would turn out to be a chiropractor whose main thing is errr adjustments.  
Usually these patients were very loyal to whomever they'd started with & didn't even look further until things just were not working at all.  It surprised me that some with pretty high intellects had no idea they should have checked things out a little further, sooner.
Many articles I read play as if today's patient is so much better informed & ready to spot errors & continually searching the net for the "latest"(the latest isn't on the net, btw), but I have found the majority to be relinquishing themselves to the instruction of whomever the first stop in their port happened to be.  I bet tons of people brag that they take Lipitor because Dr Jarvik does. ~Mary

rdautumnsage said...

I can very much relate to what Mary just said...not in a good way either. When I started having black outs, balance problems, extreme ringing in my ears....I finally couldn't take it anymore and went to my dr....who couldn't find anything wrong and sent me to someone else, who sent me to yet another specialist....

By the time I was done, I had at the very least 4 MRI's, head scans, body scans you name it I had it scanned.....Finally my current Dr. asked me are you depressed. I lost it and fired her on the spot...seriously(Yes, I did say fired, she was suppose to be WORKING to help me out). My next Dr. actually listened to me and research each of my symptoms and sent me to a Neurologist who said, it was a reaction to me losing the last of my hearing....When I asked if anything could be done, I was told seriously no, I could be made comfortable for pain but it was going to run it's course.....Yes, I was in pain, but I had an answer and could deal with it on those terms.

Yes, this is going somewhere (winks) If Dr's are this confused about what ails us, what makes us think we can self diagnose what we need by a commercial? Most of the drug commercials tell you , you need this drug for this ailment.....Ever read the warnings in small print that they tell you quickly and in a low voice...some of the side effects are worse than what your actually taking it for.. Yes, it's the information age, but no one has all the answers. (Hugs) Indigo