Commercial Diagnosis

The next time you sit down to watch the evening news, pay attention to how many commercials there are for pharmaceutical companies.

It’s amazing. Do we really need to address topics such as erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence through television advertising?

Patients are showing up in record numbers fully convinced they suffer with the afflictions advertised on TV. My father questioned his own judgment when he said, “I have to get up to go to the bathroom now two or three times a night. I thought that was just part of aging, but now I’m thinking there’s something wrong and maybe I need to take something for it.”

The result can be the same as what happens to many medical students—the more they know about diseases, the more likely they are to diagnose themselves with a drastic, if not terminal, illness. At 24 years old, they will believe that it was not the pizza they ate causing their discomfort; it’s a heart attack. It’s not the fact that they are studying so hard that they’ve forgotten to eat that has prompted their weight loss; it is some kind of leukemia.

But why are pharmaceutical ads effective?

For one, I think we’ve been taught that there are certain things we just shouldn’t talk about. We’re afraid we will be less attractive, even to those who love us most, if they know. Instead, the TV ads broach these awkward topics for us. Many people have a very difficult time talking to their doctor (or even a family member or significant other) about embarrassing physical problems. I often inadvertently discover that a patient is suffering from hemorrhoids, incontinence or a sexually transmitted disease. It’s not uncommon that I have to ask a young man who tells the nurse about his hurt leg if the real problem is something more private.

I think we often do a poor job of communicating with and about our bodies. We don’t listen to what our bodies are telling us, whether it’s good or bad news. That leaves a lot of room for the power of suggestion—and TV ads are very persuasive.

God created the human body and declared it good. Therefore, no one should be embarrassed about seeking help if something goes wrong with any part of his or her body. God did not create any “dirty” body parts. The human body is part of the beauty of God’s creation. Hopefully, we can learn to trust our family doctors and those closest to us when we need help with a personal issue. It’s not enough to pray to God to be healed. God expects us to seek out help when we need it, so that we can best care for the wonderful gift of our bodies.

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