Doctors and Lawyers and Such

A few weeks ago, I saw a television commercial with a doctor Jarvik in it – an inventor of an artificial heart. This ad wasn’t for a particular practice or institution, mind you – at least, not an institution of health or practice of medicine (necessarily). No, it was an advertisement for Lipitor – the drug that claims to lower people’s cholesterol. I didn’t think much of it. Then, when I saw the same commercial a few minutes ago, I decided to google for “jarvik sellout” – the results were quite telling. Is this celebrity doctor’s TV ad right for you?

Would you buy a heart medication from someone whose own efforts to cure heart disease led to failure? Apparently, many people do…

Oh god. Shouldn’t this be against the law or something? I mean, this isn’t funny. NPR covered the story a year ago, too. Dr. Jarvik’s Lipitor Endorsement:

If you’ve read The New York Times lately, you might have noticed a full-color, full-page ad that’s been in the paper every day this week. It’s for Lipitor, the cholesterol-lowering drug. The color picture is of Dr. Robert Jarvik, inventor of the artificial heart. Commentator Katie Watson is a medical ethicist. She says that the timing of the ad — and Dr. Jarvik’s endorsement — are both significant. As far as she can figure, it’s the first time that a doctor has been paid to endorse a prescription drug in an ad.

Oh god. My issue is less with the drug itself (at this point), and more with the marketing tactic that preys upon society’s belief that doctors are always right. Sadly, they’re equally as human as the rest of us. A few months ago, Jarvik Resists Subpoena To Pump Him for Lipitor Info:

The Federal Trade Commission is currently reviewing celebrity ad endorsements to see whether stars need to make greater disclosures regarding what they say about products (Brandweek, April 2). That review was spurred in part by various pharma marketers’ histories of using celebs to talk about drugs on TV talk shows without disclosing that they were paid to do so. And the FTC lost a case a few years ago against baseball player Steve Garvey, who had hawked the fraudulent Enforma weight-loss system in late-night infomercials.

But don’t cry for Pfizer…

Lipitor, the world’s No. 1 selling drug, has nearly $13 billion in annual sales, making up about one-fifth of all Pfizer revenues. Last year, Pfizer spent $143 million advertising the brand, up from $94 million in 2005, per TNS.

Jarvik is far from a celebrity, but I’d bet that most of Lipitor’s would-be patients were thinking “Well, if this doctor invented an artificial heart – he must be right about this drug. Why would a doctor hurt me?” I don’t know. Why would a doctor hurt you?