Naked Medicine

Let's Face It: Medicine is Business

Category: Truth in Medicine

The Theranos Problem in One WSJ Graphic

Now that Theranos is allegedly/denying-trying to raise money, speculations continue as to whether it could survive the Wall Street Journal article, Hot Startup Theranos Has Struggled With Its Blood-Test Technology, or whether a big industry player may swoop down to acquire the company.

In terms of “who would be audacious (to use a polite word) enough to possibly merge/acquire Theranos”, I think a diagnostic company would be more a likely candidate… you know, one of the big players that Theranos was meant to “disrupt” the business of.

The short sighted assumption from many people thus far, is that Theranos was the only company that had the “foresight” to reduce sample volume required for blood based assays.

Can we actually believe that NONE of the big players NEVER considered the competitive advantage of reducing sample volume required from patients and human subjects? Are we saying that all these years no one had ever realized how many people hated needles, and the kind market leadership position one may gain if one creates an assay method that enables accurate sampling of mere drops of blood versus vials of blood?

When we look at Theranos’s “accuracy” compared with hospital results, most scientists familiar with the assay process can deduce the magnitude of what needs disrupting:

The best performance in the graphic from Theranos in terms of “accuracy” compared with a hospital result “standard”, is the glucose test.

This is nothing to be impressed about: getting the glucose reading right is no newer than the finger prick glucose draw available from today’s diabetes management devices. It only shows Theranos got their tech as right as what is already available in terms of a finger prick blood sugar test.

Perhaps someone can use current glucose monitoring technology, modify it so it could assay for Herpes (simplex type1), and see if the same “tech” transfers readily to accurately test for Herpes. This would offer an interesting data point to show just how novel the “Edison portfolio of technology” is.

This one graphic sums up the Theranos problem: the most accurate comparison is in a variable for which cheap and accessible diagnostic is available (glucose), and not for any variables for which wide clinical use are expected (liver function tests, which are critical for a variety of medications affecting liver function).

Theranos’s results are consistently “false positive” compared with hospital standard: if a clinician believes in the Theranos result, the clinician may order the patient to stop taking medications that the patient needed and was doing well on, but should no longer be taking because the results show that liver was being negatively affected, or the clinician could switch to another less effective medication for the patient out of concern for liver function. Either case, if the Theranos test was inaccurate, this would cause harm to the patient by unnecessarily disrupting treatment regimen that was otherwise appropriate.

This is not the kind of “disruption” healthcare providers want.

From a business perspective, Theranos’s FDA approved use for its product has a very narrow indication (Herpes), yet the test is commercially available without authorization from a licensed healthcare practitioner. This is great for the company’s bottom line, because the (federal) agency will have a tough time identifying which kits have been purchased for “approved” use and which kits are actually used “off-label”. The pricing advantage allows Theranos to reduce dependence on CMS reimbursement, by going straight to consumers. Liability becomes a matter of personal injury, which may be skirted when the consumers assume entire risk by “inappropriately using” the kit.

However, this is not great from a consumer protection standpoint.

We may subscribe to a conspiracy theory about major diagnostic and device companies colluding to keep an oligopoly on expensive assay machines and profit margins for assay kits, but from a business competition standpoint, the market dominance/leadership would be too attractive for a major player to ignore in the name of market oligopoly.

Why I Chose NOT to be a Doctor

I was once a premed.

I chose not to become a doctor because I wasn’t truly interested in the profession, it was something I felt I “had” to do or “should” do because I happened to major in biology. And being a first generation Asian-American there was also pressure from being a “Tiger Cub”: we have limited career options: doctor, lawyer, engineer. I suck in math and was good in biology. Guess which option I had?

In my undergrad classes I was among other premeds; many of them went in for the Money, the Prestige, for their Parents. But they will all talk about how much they love helping people/patients on their applications.

I did consider taking the MCAT and even paid for one of those “prep courses”, in case I changed my mind. But I knew my grades weren’t good enough, I didn’t have “connections”, and I wasn’t going to throw good money after a bad risk, especially when that money was already borrowed money via student loans. I went to grad school instead.

Then I started working in the healthcare industry, first working for the pharma industry. Maybe the nature of my work in pharma predisposed me to witness the doctor-industry relationship in a way that brought out some of the unsavory traits of the medical profession.

I saw some of these doctors up close – their lives (and lack thereof), their values (and lack thereof), their character (and lack thereof), bedside manners (and lack thereof).

We are constantly reading about how “evil” the Pharmaceutical Industry is and how they corrupt doctors and so forth – that gets a lot of coverage in the presses. Well, I’ve seen it from the other side: there are doctors who have become savvier businessmen than they are savvy clinicians and they are perfectly capable of manipulating drug companies to fulfill their personal interests. I’ve had doctors asking me for favors that I knew had nothing to do with improving patient care. I’m not embarrassed to admit that my first year of working in industry had almost completely destroyed the trust I used to have in doctors.

I saw the state of Managed Care and the “healthcare business” that has made doctors more busy with administrative work than taking care of patients. A HMO doctor once explained to me that he goes through each day making sure he breaks even by seeing 50 patients. He knows how much $ he gets paid per patient from the HMO. So he has to see a certain # of patients to stay in business. Depending on the patient’s condition, say the patient has a cold, he’d spend a few seconds with the person, and knowing that the patient would expect “something” for the visit, the doctor would write a prescription for an antibiotic just to get that patient out of the office, so he could see the next patient.

The medical profession was not something I’d ever wanted for myself if I did not have a deep-rooted passion and conviction about going into the profession. In fact, the medical profession is one that I would not encourage my child to go into, unless again, he expresses a serious conviction about becoming a physician. I actually have to be careful about my own prejudices – that I do not vehemently discourage my child from considering this profession. That would be as bad as the Tiger Mothers who force their children into the medical profession.

I know this puts me in the “outlier” group of Asian mothers. But then again I’ve always been an outlier.

FDA Has to Slow Down to Keep Up with Drug Companies

Steve Woodruff is hopping mad with the apparent gross inefficiency and indecision of the “guidance process” for pharma company promotional practices when it comes to social media, and I can’t blame him!

But I’m on the FDA’s side this time.

Let me say up front that I never liked how the FDA remains vague and slow in the past, it sucked when I was a pharma employee trying to figure out just what the FDA “wants”, but the FDA had long acted like a tripped out lover who has something in mind but we’re supposed to guess or better yet – read his mind.

But today I am much more forgiving of the FDA than I am of pharma company management.

I was looking at a recent run down of 2010′s lawsuits settled by drug companies and to say that I’m disappointed with industry’s continual hypocrisy is a gross understatement.

It’s one thing when you can say that you’re working toward implementation of compliance practices. It’s another when you take one step forward and 3 steps back as an industry in something as “common sense” as “don’t mislead the public” (in every which way that can be done via old media/new media).

For so many years whether as employee or consultant, I have heard company management say “Patients are our #1 concern! People are our greatest asset! We want to do the right thing!” in public forums and company meetings. Then I look at the actions that are motivated by incentives and hidden rules at companies.

I’m not surprised why the government keeps ramping up its prosecution arm. I get that pharma changes are slow, but this looks almost as if pharma wants to test how slow it can change.

I’m not surprised the FDA has to “slow down to keep up”.

I have read some of the recent untitled warning letters sent to pharmacos, and the violative actions from pharmacos. HAVE YOU READ THESE? Look at the list growing from year to year. And how the SAME CITATIONS KEEP COMING UP, AGAIN AND AGAIN.

If I had to cull through the sheer amount of garbage that pharmacos continue to churn out as sales aid, my resources would come up short as well.

It’s like, pharma companies can’t learn!

It makes me want to say, “come on pharmaco people, you guys come armed with MBAs and doctorate degrees, you have teams of lawyers…. SERIOUSLY? THIS TYPE OF VIOLATION – STILL?”

Or more accurately, maybe they just don’t want to learn.

Maybe it’s still a game to see how much money you can make when you push the envelope and offset the profits with FDA imposed penalties and fines.

Even when you slapped with a huge lawsuit costing you hundreds of millions of dollars, well you can act like this is the stock market and say if you earned more revenue than lose it as a liability of “market fluctuation or market conditions” you’ll still come out on top.

Meanwhile, patients lose, healthcare loses, and pharma employees who actually want to do the right thing when earning their keep lose.

Pharmacy and McDonald’s: Strange Bedfellows that Aren’t so Strange

My friend Natalie Bourre saw my post about the non-biodegradable Happy Meal photo-essay and told me about a Canadian Pharmacy that had, as part of its weekly promotion, a coupon for McDonald’s.

This promotion is no longer on the corporate website, so you will have to visit Nat’s blog to see the screenshot she captured when those coupons were prominently displayed at the “CLICK ME NOW!”-eye-level.

Here’s what we DO have for this week’s promotion, however. A special offer for seniors who spend $50 or more with the drug store:

And here’s why I think it’s not so strange that a pharmacy should accept advertising from McDonald’s, and why an establishment advocating for better consumer health would not be a strange bedfellow with a fast food company:

If we are all more responsible with our health and become epitomes of good prevention and healthy lifestyle choices, pharmacies would go out of business. Or at least struggle a bit in the pharmacy business.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ll always need drugs and stuff that pharmacies dispense, by the mere reality that we are mortal and therefore subject to the systematic and gradual deterioration called “aging”. But people who don’t have serious health issues requiring chronic medication and healthcare intervention aren’t going to be frequenting drug stores. Healthy people who don’t need medication are not that great for the long term robustness of a drug dispensing business.

Let’s also not forget that when we’re at the drug store waiting for our prescription filled, we also get to wander around the aisles for some impulse purchase, as well as doing some shopping for toothpaste or shampoo or laundry detergent or Halloween costumes (drug stores these days are almost like departmental stores, offering things you’d normally not associate with drug stores)! It’s not just the drugs dispensed, but all the opportunistic non-medical drug store purchases that contribute to the bottom line.

The way I see it, promoting McDonald’s now may help create new customers for tomorrow.

Acai Miracle Berries is Mostly Miracle Marketing

In experiments conducted by the US Dept of Agriculture, volunteers were asked to ingest large quantities of fruits that have been identified as having high levels of antioxidants, and their blood were subsequently tested for antioxidant capacity. One important note is the large amount of fruit required per ingestion – for example – volunteers in the Kiwi fruit group must eat 4 kiwis. The cherry group? 45 cherries. This should give consumers an idea of the potential “starting” dose needed to gain an antioxidant benefit – and this is PER DOSE. (imagine eating 45 * 3 cherries a day – if you want to get the benefit of cherries’ antioxidant properties with every meal.)

This does make for an attractive commercial market to give consumers “concentrated” forms of antioxidants – except most of companies providing these types of nutrition products are not regulated by the FDA – that branch of the government regulating food and drugs to make sure that you as a consumer aren’t being ripped off or worse – physically harmed by ingesting unsafe products. Unfortunately, history has shown that the FDA only steps in when enough people get sick or if a few people begin to die from the so-called “nutraceutical” – just look at the ephedrine cases in the multi-billion dollar weight-loss industry.

Currently there is no agreed projection of antioxidant intake because this can fluctuate based on individual energy intake, caloric consumption, and especially environmental or confounding health related factors like exposure to cigarette smoke or disease (increasing body’s oxidation burden). There are researchers who are trying to determine what these individual needs may be, but for the most part, consumers have been inundated by commercial entities eager to profit on a perceived benefit of “high antioxidant intake”. For example, via Quackwatch:
http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/PhonyAds/acai.html

The verdict? If you like to drink exotic berries for the taste, there’s no problem with indulging yourself but if you’re looking for some of these commercial products for bona fide healthcare benefits, require the claims to be backed up by randomized, double-blind placebo controlled clinical trials, with full disclosure of side effect profiles experienced by the human subjects.

(…and if there is really some miracle plant bearing amazing therapeutic properties, the pharma companies would outrun anyone to isolate the agents, synthesize/mass produce, and submit it through the proper legal govt channels for commercialization! that was how we got cancer drugs from the pacific yew tree.)

Which Side Are You Really On, Jane Chin?!

I received what is probably the most passionate email from a reader of this blog that I’ve ever gotten since creating NakedMedicine.com in 2006. The email concludes with this:

I can’t figure out what your agenda is Ms Chin. Are siding with the poor hard working physicians who are fighting a losing battle with their idiot patient’s lifestyles? Are you siding with the tirelessly industrious pharmaceutical scientists who are selflessly dedicating their efforts to cure our ills? Are you siding with the poor neglected suffering individuals who are bravely pushing onward in their lives, struggling with disease, possible disease, possible pandemics, or just plain plainness requiring cosmetic medicine? Doctors, business, persons, for whom are you advocating?

I was shocked by the email, because this reader “hit the nail on the head”! He can’t figure out what my agenda is, because my agenda is in NONE of those sides he described. In other words, if I were guilty of picking “a side”, it wasn’t part of the “usual suspects”.

Here’s my very long response to my reader, to whom I’m grateful, because he took the time and effort to share with me this question that obviously is frustrating him.

******

You wrote what you felt, and I don’t fault you for that. I can sense a real feeling of frustration from you, and I don’t blame you for feeling frustrated about the healthcare system that seems to be broken in many ways.

I want to address specific points you brought up – first one being ‘cures’. I genuinely don’t think that the drug industry is prevented from, or are resistant to, discovering cures for diseases. It’s not about ‘cure’ versus ‘not the cure’ that is the problem. It is often the economy of scale that is the problem, and a very understandable one when you consider that the drug industry is – and has to run like a business – in order to remain in business. I have no doubt that the drug industry would love to find a cure – because they can charge for the price of a ‘cure’ and be justified in charging such a price.

The problem on the one hand is that many times we simply cannot find ONE underlying factor of a disease, especially the chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease (in fact, many diabetics die of a heart attack and don’t live long enough to die of diabetes complications, especially those consuming a western diet). It is not like a bacterial infection where we can pinpoint ONE origin of the disease and target that specifically, the way we can target an infecting bacteria with an antibiotic and ‘cure’ the patient.

The other problem is about the number of people with a certain disease. For example, there may be fewer companies willing to research rare diseases that may be ‘repaired’ let alone ‘cured’, simply because the companies need to get the money somehow to do all the experiments and clinical trials necessary to jump through regulatory hurdles to even get the drug approved. When i was a graduate student, doing what are pretty simple experiments (and not even in people – i worked off the petri dishes), i was often using reagents that cost my employer thousands of dollars to purchase from reagent companies. Each of my experiments has to cost at least a thousand bucks, and many of my experiments failed and produced no result.

These prices are nothing compared to the amount of money it costs to run a clinical trial at the scale required by the FDA. Now the drug companies have to pay for the drugs, the cost of mountains of paperwork needed to get the clinical trials started, the doctors who do the clinical trials (and some doctors get really snobby and brag to each other about how much $ they can muscle out of drug companies “per patient” to enroll in the drug companies’ trials), not to mention the “overhead” that the academic institutions charge the drug companies because their doctors work there (and these overhead costs can mean more than 50% of the total study budget).

And then most of the drugs end up not passing the FDA’s requirements and fail to get approved. So if you’re running a company, you will tend to want to go into areas where you will likely have more customers – heart disease for example – just so you stand a better chance of keeping your company operating should it succeed in getting a drug treating that disease approved. This is also why the government has to create incentives for companies that are willing to go into rare or “orphan” diseases – for example, Gaucher’s disease is a rare lysosomal storage disease affecting maybe 1 in 40,000 people. A drug company that competes in this market will be happy selling 1 prescription every 3 months.

I honestly do not view drug companies as entities that profit from the suffering of others, because of the logic of this assumption: If drug companies are creating diseases in people in order to make drugs for the very diseases they created, then that to me qualifies for the statement. However, drug companies happen to offer the tools to treat the disease, not unlike device companies making scalpels and surgical tools to allow doctors to cut us open should our illnesses demand it. It seems illogical to me to accuse device companies for profiting from people having tumors that require scalpels to operate and excise the tumors – unless we’re also implying that the scalpel companies are putting tumors in people that only their brand of scalpel can remove.

Additionally, I have observed that for the most part, people in our society today tend to prefer that we “have a pill to treat XYZ”, so that they do not have to do the hard work required to get their own health back on track. And then you add to the fire media agencies that charge pharma companies millions of dollars to come up with brainless gimmicky advertisements, and it is no wonder why many people feel like the drug companies are “profiteers of suffering.” Some years ago, there was a government funded study that shows that rigorous diet and exercise will help reduce diabetes risk at a very real level – in fact – the study patients who had diet and exercise regimen did as well in reducing their diabetes symptoms as study patients who took an anti-diabetic drug.

But why hasn’t the government or the doctors (not the drug companies – their responsibility is in making drugs) done anything about this amazing result? Because the of costs involved to the clinics in order to make “diet and exercise” possible in patients at a therapeutic level. Clinics would need to hire case workers and nurses whose job is to counsel and support and follow each and every single patient who opts for this “natural and effective” treatment. OK then, how about asking patients themselves to do this? Seriously, if you are a patient at risk for diabetes (i.e. risk factors are there, but patient is still “pre-diabetic” and not yet requiring drugs to control their blood sugars), you have everything you need at your disposal to go for the natural and effective (and less expensive than prescription drugs) cure! why aren’t patients doing this? because willpower and discipline are key – and you’re going to need both for a lifetime to prolong the onset of disease.

I can share this true experience – my husband had prediabetic blood work results some years ago when I urged him to see an endocrinologist, because his side of the family also suffers from diabetes. the endocrinologist told him that because he was so young (not yet 40 at the time), she preferred that he try the old fashioned diet and exercise, and see if he could get the risk factors down, before she put him on a drug. He happens to have a level of willpower and discipline that even I don’t have – and he altered his lifestyle dramatically – and it was enormously difficult. 6 weeks later he went back and the endocrinologist was so impressed with his results that she told him that most of his blood work results were approaching normal numbers. But she also told us that not every patient she sees can make this happen – and often she is forced to give the patient drugs to make sure that the patient doesn’t end up with uncontrolled diabetes symptoms (resulting in all sorts of nasty things including death).

I see drugs as exactly what you said you wished to see – repairs and cures. However, the reality is, few are truly cures because of the complexities of most diseases, and repairs don’t always “fix” things without creating new problems (called side effects) EXACTLY because of the complexities of most diseases.

The doctors’ hands are tied not by pharma companies, but by insurance companies as well as their own malpractice lawsuit concerns. Your average primary care doctor has to track how many patients he sees everyday because he needs to make sure he breaks even. That’s not the drug companies doing, but the insurance companies that capitate how much doctors are paid for doing what. So you also have a system that don’t reward doctors for spending more time with patients – in fact – you’re making it very bad business for the doctor to spend too much time because then he’ll lose money that day – and this does not do well to cultivate trust with patients who then need to heed the doctors’ advice about doing the hard things they need to do to steer their health status back on track.

I hope my email begins to help you understand where I am coming from – perhaps I can’t take any sides because I don’t think there are any sides that I can reasonably take without acknowledging that there are other entities that also need to be held accountable. the healthcare ‘system” is truly a “system” and a staggering, complex one at that. the best I can do is to help the consumers – people like you and me – to think for ourselves about what is being “sold” to us whether it’s from the drug companies, insurance companies, the government, the doctors, even patient groups. If I am guilty of siding with anything, it will be on the side of “critical thinking” about the system of healthcare with all of its players.

Best wishes,
Jane Chin

Pharma Industry’s Job is NOT Disease Prevention. THAT’S YOUR JOB.

I’ve heard the argument, so have you.

“Those evil pharma companies aren’t interested in prevention! They want people to get sick and stay sick because that’s how they make their money! On the drugs!”

Recently I had railed against the pharma companies that are capitalizing on increasing trends of people using certain prescription drugs as “lifestyle drugs” – not to mention appearing on the Wall Street Journal this past Friday to rail against pharma companies that abuse the role of medical science liaisons, so I have my own pet peeves and criticisms with pharma. What irks me is when a criticism about any industry is not based on a fundamental flaw in that industry, but is simply born of politicking sensationalizing this-is-how-I-get-more-readers/viewers tactic.

Most of these people have taken a basic science class at some point in their lives and learned about a phenomenon called “entropy”. How things in a system tend to go toward disorder, and to halt this “natural” occurrence from occurring, you have to add in a great deal of energy, and even that won’t ultimately stop the inevitable.

Kind of like the idea of life and death, which is relevant to the assessment of this dimension of our hostility towards the pharmaceutical industry.

Obviously, pharma companies want you to stay alive, preferably as long as possible. This is not so they can capitalize on you dying (a dead person is no longer a customer)! The pharmaceutical industry is a business that capitalizes on your DESIRE to PROLONG YOUR LIFE AND MINIMIZE PHYSICAL PAIN AND SUFFERING. If you aren’t interested in prolonging life and minimizing physical pain and suffering, the pharma industry ain’t gonna benefit from YOU since you’re not a customer to begin with!

Let’s say you are sick from complications of heart disease.

Pharma companies that are in the heart disease business is not responsible for PREVENTING YOU from getting heart disease. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE for making sure you do what you’re supposed to do to reduce your risk of getting heart disease, unless somehow you have signed the claim to your physical existence over to another person who is legally responsible for your physical survival and health.

Your family doctor may have a responsibility to educate you on mitigating the risks of getting heart disease, so those who want to rant about prevention may want to point their antennae to the medical profession, but ultimately YOU are STILL RESPONSIBLE for the behaviors and actions YOU TAKE that lead to the result of heart disease or no-heart disease. Your doctors can be the best doctors they can be and even give you a diet and exercise regimen that will lower your cholesterol, reduce your blood pressure, and take down your diabetes risk factors a few notches – but if you DON’T DO WHAT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO, then you will end up with the health consequences. Actually, this is EXACTLY what happens in many obesity and heart disease cases today. Doctors themselves will admit that many of their patients won’t heed their advice, and most will lack the discipline required to stick with a rigorous healthy lifestyle to make a lifesaving change.

Are we saying that it’s the pharma industry’s job to PREVENT us from assuming behaviors that will put our health at risk? If there’s a pill for stopping us from risky behaviors, and pharma makes it commercially available, then we’ll simply turn around and say “now pharma wants to control our thoughts and actions!” (I think we already have those kind of pills, and there are activists and lawyers jumping on that bandwagon.)

Seriously, if you take care of your body, do everything healthy like you’re inundated by all media outlets to do (don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t go out in the sun without wearing sunscreen, eat more fruits and vegetables, exercise at least 30 minutes a day, etc…), then you’re probably not going to need all those pharmaceuticals until the inevitable process of aging occurs, where your cells can’t care less what you’ve done because they’re all getting old and breaking down as a natural part of the decline of “life” in your physical human existence.

Female Sexual Dysfunction: Pharma’s Next Lifestyle Market

I’m posting this from one of Steve Woodruff’s blog posts that I shared via my Facebook profile, which turned into a full blown debate between me, Dmitriy Kruglyak, and Yvette – one of my FB friends.

Jane Chin
I’m pro-pharma, but I’m NOT happy w/ female sexual dysfunction disease mongering I expect to see from pharmacos! http://ow.ly/4xQH

Dmitriy Kruglyak at 8:18am April 30
Where do you draw the line between “disease mongering” and “disease awareness”?

Jane Chin at 8:21am April 30
When the ‘awareness” generated makes patients who otherwise are not candidates for the drug pressure docs to write the Rx.

Dmitriy Kruglyak at 8:23am April 30
Ah, but who gets to decide “who are the candidates” and what qualifies as “pressure”? Especially if we are talking DTC, rather than Rx. Are there hard and fast rules?

Jane Chin at 8:25am April 30
that’s why I don’t think DTC is responsible for niche diseases. Pressure=if you don’t write it, I’ll go to another doctor who will.

Dmitriy Kruglyak at 8:27am April 30
Hmmm, seems to me “if you don’t write it, I’ll go to another doctor who will” can come from any kind of patient empowerment, not just driven by Rx advertising.

Jane Chin at 8:28am April 30
Yes it can, but true patient empowerment IS NOT “take this pill, fix your problem” when the problem is not always solved by “a” pill.

Dmitriy Kruglyak at 8:47am April 30
Patients just want to do what they want to do. People have, are and will always look for quick fixes. That’s human nature.

Jane Chin at 8:51am April 30
I know this is human nature, and one capitalized by advertising. But where health and human life are concerned, the ethical standards should be higher.

Dmitriy Kruglyak at 8:53am April 30
Seems to me advertising is simply fulfilling demand

Jane Chin at 9:02am April 30
No, advertising is meant to CREATE demand. Even better when advertising increases the market from perception-based v. needs-based demand. (more…)

How to See Through Pharma Ad BS?

Like all marketing campaigns, the aim of any pharma advertisement is to get you to think that you need a certain product or a service. I understand that all pharma companies will say that they want to educate patients on the condition first and foremost, but I guarantee that when pharma companies are forking over multimillion dollar checks to ad agencies, they’re looking for more product sales as a return on investment (ROI).

This is not a “bad” thing – this is business. Let’s say you’re an inventor and you created a program that would improve the amount of sassing teenagers give to their parents. Would you pay an agency half of your annual paycheck so that parents can be educated about the prevalence of sassing by teenagers? NO! You want parents to buy your program so you can make back at least the money you spent on the ad, plus more so you can pay your mortgage and keep your family fed!

Well, pharma’s like that. I know for some it is incredible to believe, but pharma companies are not alive in themselves, as if there is a force called “the pharma company” making decisions. Pharma companies are made up of hundreds of thousands of people who have to feed themselves and their families and put a roof over their heads. (Many of them are parents and most of them probably wish that you did invent a program that improves teen sassing of parents.)

So the key is not to spend your energy hating companies and talking trash about how misleading some commercials are or how annoying you find that a computer graphic bee is selling you asthma medication or how a group of red-towel clad women looking like they think they’re better than you want to sell you a hormone replacement drug.

As consumers, the key is to see through BS!

And the best way to see through any “BS” – whether it is from pharma or any other industry – is to know the difference between:

– what you NEED

– what you WANT

– what you are led to THINK you NEED

This last item – what you are led to think you need – is the crux of how ads work. Ads lead you think you need something, and usually tap into our animal instincts, or tap into our more “evolved” desires like convenience.

Example:

– buy this car and you’ll attract sexy partners (taps into animal instinct)

– take this pill (taps into convenience in some cases where diet, exercise, life style change is much harder)

Therefore, a question consumers can ask themselves whenever they are confronted with an agent of influence is,

“Is this what I REALLY need? Or is this what I want? Or is this what I am tempted to think I need?”

You can apply these questions to 99% of the junk ads you see on television these days, aside from pharma ads.

RLS Anti-Ad Video is as Bad as Drug Company DTC

A Consumer Reports video of the Requip DTC ad (another drug used to treat RLS, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline) has been published.

cr_rls.jpg

Let me first state that I’ve seen the Requip ad in question many times when I watch TV, and each time I have the same negative reaction to the ad. This means I have some negative personal bias against the ad itself and the way the company is marketing this to consumers en masse. That said, I decided not to go to the drug company’s “defense video”, which may predispose me to additional bias, and I present my analysis of the anti-ad video by Consumer Reports.

A young woman is seen in the ad to go through the drug company’s ads line by line. She comments on the statements made by the drug company ad. She doesn’t really “analyze” the statements as much as comment – and there’s a big difference between an unbiased analysis and editorial/opinion/commentary (example, “Ooh! Sounds Serious” and “Sounds like the side effects are worse than the condition!” and lots of sentences beginning with exclamations like “Ahh!”).

Given that she doesn’t suffer from RLS, her commentary is biased and nothing more than an opinion. I’d like to hear from a member of that 3% population who DOES suffer from RLS and hear whether he or she agrees that the side effects are worse than the condition.

She does mention selectively the 2 people whose compulsive gambling caused them to lose over $100K each as a result of the side effect of Requip. $100K is a lot of money, no question about it. But 2 people – that’s a small “sample size” and in the medical community and the lines of “evidence based medicine” would constitute “case reports” – the weakest type of “evidence” and would be considered anecdotal more than actual evidence. Other types of side effects like nausea and headache probably had more reports, but $100K is more sensational. It seems like the Consumer Reports anti-ad video is using some of the techniques that they’re criticizing the drug company for doing – sensationalizing what is actually a very small percentage of occurrence.

Does the Consumer Report ad make valid points? Sure. Is the anti-ad “ad” video a spin? Yes. A gloating male voice comes at the end to say “This ad is sponsored by – NO ONE!” as a vehicle to suggest that everything it claims in the its video must be unbiased and therefore, credible. However, the video itself contains very little evidence, lots of editorial claims, and does not address symptoms of the actual condition of RLS so that consumers can be “better educated” if Consumer Reports does not believe the GSK’s Requip ad is doing a good job.

This reminds me a bit of smear campaigning that politicians use against each other. What I’d like to see is a curbing of anti-anything from activist groups. For once, I’d like to see someone spend the dollars coming up with the better solution to educating consumers credibly and objectively and setting a positive example for others to follow.

Source: John Mack who has been following the restless leg syndrome (RLS) “phenomenon”.

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