I usually cringe when I see a pharmaceutical company ad on TV. I think most pharma commercials do more harm than good. The ads scare patients out of taking medications they need.
Actor: Do you have uncontrollable diarrhea? I did, and then my doctor prescribed “No-More-Poop!” Now I feel great and don’t have to worry about embarrassing accidents.
Commentator: Clinical studies done at a leading university prove that “No-More-Poop” cures 99% of patients with uncontrollable diarrhea.
Now, in a softer voice and with a rapid fire delivery.
Commentator: In a small number of cases, patients treated with “No-More-Poop” died from bowel obstruction, lost their vision, experienced erectile dysfunction, and became psychotic. If you experience any of these problems, stop taking “No-More-Poop” and see your doctor immediately.
It’s no wonder that after watching a television ad for medications, patients are too afraid to seek treatment for treatable diseases. On a rare occasion, I see a pharma ad that teaches about a disease process, not about a medication. Disease oriented ads are helpful as they educate the public without pitching a product or scaring patients by highlighting unlikely side effects and risk. The job of educating patients about side effects and risk belongs to the doc and the patient’s pharmacist.
Everything has side effects and risk. While the FDA mandates that all FDA approved medicine’s side effects and risk be widely available to the public, no such warnings exist for the rest of the world. Did you know that going to the grocery store has risk? Over the years, I have treated multiple children who have fallen out of grocery carts and hit their head, adults who have slipped injuring their back or hips, and once, treated a women for a burn to her eye after she picked up a Jalapeño pepper and then wiped her eye with her hand.
If the FDA governed supermarkets and demanded that supermarket ads have fair balance and list the risk associated with shopping in their stores then Mr. Commentator, in a low voice with rapid fire delivery would say, “Shopping at Grocer ‘A’ has been associated with head injury, sprained backs, fractures of the spine and hip as well as injuries to the eye that may result in blindness.”
Can you imagine what auto commercials would sound like? Have you ever read automotive safety statistics? I have, and they are scary. I know, medications are different then cars.
Are they? When you get in the car, you strap on your seatbelt, follow the rules of the road, stopping at stop signs and red lights. You watch out for the other guy, merge carefully, and check your mirrors at all times.
When your doc gives you a medication, he gives you rules of the road. He tells you how and when to take it. He tells you when to follow-up for a recheck. The pharmacist should review the rules with you as well. When we discuss possible side effects and risks it’s the same as pointing out where the dangerous pot holes, intersections, and merges are. When we tell you how and when to take a medication, we are strapping on your seatbelt. Following the rules of the road makes you journey safer.
If you are not confident that you know how to drive a car, don’t drive. If you are not confident that you understand how to take your medication, ask your doc or pharmacist to review it with you until you are. The car is a marvelous vehicle that can get you from point “A” to point “B” in relative safety. Medications are vehicles as well, meant to get you from point “A” to point “B” in the best health they can. Yes, they carry risk. Everything does.
Stewart Segal is a family physician who blogs at Livewellthy.org.
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