Doctors need to do a better job in the PR department

I use my computer a lot, so I see a lot of advertisements. Many of them are for the latest two or three items I’ve priced online (which I find somewhat creepy but fairly easy to ignore). Many of them are generic, casting a wide net. These generic ads frequently talk about “one ridiculously easy trick” to halve your car insurance payments, lose 50 pounds, learn a foreign language, look younger, or drastically reduce your utility bills. Experts in the relevant fields apparently don’t want you to know about these ridiculously easy tricks, and the fact that “local moms” know about them makes the experts “furious.”

The websites promoting these ads either put malware on your computer or make their sites impossible to navigate away from (“are you sure you want to leave this page?” and if you click “yes,” they take you to another page selling the same thing) until you give them your credit card number to subscribe to deliveries in perpetuity of the magic product. They are scams. They are silly. Most people know this and ignore them, but some folks are sucked in.

Those that are sucked in are either looking for an easy way to do something that takes a lot of work or they’re annoyed and fed up with those the ads purport to infuriate. That’s the aspect I want to discuss — the annoyance and fed-up-ness. I can see that people might want to stick-it-to-the-man in situations where they feel like they have been treated less-than-fairly. I suppose there are people who hated their college’s foreign language requirement, resented the homework their professor assigned, and can’t wait to do what “makes language professors livid!” Of course, if you were to take a second to think about it, you’d realize that a language professor wouldn’t be angry if there were an easy way to learn a language — a professor wants her students to learn! But the ad tries to get people to act on an initial feeling of animosity. I find it sad that there is animosity toward teachers (some of my favorite people in the world are teachers).

And as a doctor, it bothers me that people are capitalizing on an impulse to do something that “infuriates doctors.” Again, if you were to think about it for a second, why would a doctor be angry if someone safely and effectively were to lose weight or quit smoking? But the fact that the impulse is there says that there exists among some a perception that doctors want to coerce patients into doing things that somehow benefit the doctors and not the patients. The perception is that the doctor wants his patient to take an expensive medication (which somehow financially benefits the doctor) rather than the mail-order magic berries or green coffee beans or whatever other magic potion the website offers for the bargain price of $69.95 per month — a 70% savings off the retail price!

Doctors need to do a better job in the PR department, specifically by working to partner with their patients to help them feel more engaged and empowered with their own healthcare. Physicians need to do a much better job in the general education department — educating their own patients and doing outreach to help educate the population-at-large on topics like how to evaluate a research study and what websites are trustworthy sources. For example, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, run by the NIH, conducts and supports research on and provides information about complementary health practices, including use of supplements/herbs/etc.

What really infuriates the physician writing this blog is unscrupulous people looking to make a buck who try to drive a wedge between people and their doctors. I’ll post this blog later in Chinese, as soon as I finish the program that ticks off language professors, which I paid for with the money I saved on homeowner’s insurance using one ridiculously simple trick.

Abigail Schildcrout is founder, Practical Medical Insights, and blogs at DocThoughts.


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  • Abigail Schildcrout

    And have I mentioned how white my teeth are? Totally angered my dentist.

  • Jess

    “I use my computer a lot, so I see a lot of advertisements.”

    Take one Ad-Block Plus and call me in the morning. It totally infuriates advertisers;)

    • Abigail Schildcrout

      Thank you! :)

  • Rachel Phillips

    I can see why physicians are infuriated with the image projected onto them of being money-driven, unscrupulous and uncaring. Everyone is pointing fingers at each other as the healthcare industry collapses. Insurers point fingers at the physicians, physicians point fingers at the insurers, government points a finger at insurers, physicians and consumers, all three point fingers at the government, consumers point fingers at all of them, the industry points a finger at the irresponsible consumer (who can’t pay their medical bills). It’s all very infuriating for all of us. And, without dwelling on the negative, all of us deserve the part that we are being accused of. Which is positive because it’s only when we take responsibility for the things that we can and should change… that creates change. That’s the positive message I gleaned from your article.

    It is good to see a physician who is encouraging his colleagues to take responsibility and change what they can for the better..

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