Dr. Jarvik’s Row Bow

As he gently rowed across a serene mountain lake, Dr. Robert Jarvik, inventor of the artificial heart, told us about Lipitor, the cholesterol drug.

The fact that it was not Dr. Jarivk, but a body double ‘doing the crewing’ (yes, yes, we are a little proud of our rhyming skills this morning) was only part of Pfizer’s problem with the ubiquitous 2006 commercial. Allowing viewers to conveniently assume Jarvik was a medical doctor was just a failure to communicate precisely.  Pfizer’s argument that the purpose of the ads was only to prompt a dialogue between patients and physicians about heart health, not to specifically promote their particular product, was laughable.  The company eventually pulled the commercial as criticism mounted.

Welcome to the complex and confounding world of direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising, a practice that only the US and New Zealand allow. 

Granted, if the US did not allow DTC ads, there would be hours of blank time on our TVs, though we would avoid the awkward silence that comes when the guy with the deep voice says, ‘if it lasts longer than four hours…’  Well, you know.

This has been going on since 1985, but we are about to get a new twist.  Last week, the FDA reversed course and decided to allow DTC marketing of the personal genomic genetic risk assessment provided by 23andMe.  This saliva-based test, which can be ordered by the consumer directly from the company, will test for ten potential diseases or conditions, including Parkinson’s and Celiac diseases. Other conditions are coming soon.

Ever since Hippopcrates had a guy say, ‘Well, my neighbor thinks I have the plague and should soak in frog urine,’ physicians have been dealing with patients walking in with information in hand that may hijack where the doctor was planning on taking the conversation.  Now they may come in clutching a genetic risk profile.

The FDA press release says this information should not be used to make a diagnosis or inform treatment decisions.  What, are people doing this just to have a better pick-up line than ‘What’s your sign? ‘

‘Hi, I’m Bill and I have a moderate heredity risk of hemochromatosis.  How about you?’ 

And of course, you should consult with a professional if you have questions or concerns.

Heads up.  This one will show up in your office soon.


3 + twelve =


Tim Coan, ALN’s CEO, writes an insightful and witty blog three times a week about a variety of topics relevant to independent physician practices.

Yes, I'd like to get Tim's blog.