Posted by: Kenn Hermann | February 12, 2008

The Branding of the Doctor’s Office

It has been a year since my last visit to our family doctor. What had happened to his office during that year took me aback. Everywhere you looked, on every throw-away item, was the prominent logo of a well-known and highly marketed drug. You don’t have to wait very long in the waiting room before yet another drug rep shows up with a sample case at the window. Feeling depressed while walking in the door? Not to worry. There’s the check-in clipboard brought to you by Cymbalta. Fumbling for a pen to jot down your personal information for the umpteenth time in the office? Not to worry. There’s a cheap pen on the counter brought to you by the concerned folks at Vytorin who worry about your elevated cholesterol levels. Nexium has given the office a nice wall calendar so that you can easily find a date for your next appointment. Feeling a little stuffed up? Not to worry. The good folks at Cialis have placed a small box of tissues on the end table next to the couch in the waiting room.

It doesn’t end there. If your doctor’s visit is anything like mine, you are ushered into the exam room where you wait for another long stretch of time. (and you wondered why they call us ‘patience’?) But no longer are you forced to endure the sterile white surroundings while you wait. No, the marketers of Mucinex and Ambien have outfitted the room with colorful desk pads for the doctor’s notes and tissues for the exam table. And, finally, at the counter to pay your bill you are greeted by a counter-top pad from Pfizer’s family of drugs.

What’s next? Just think of the possibilities . . . .doctors wearing sponsorship logos from the various drug companies and medical supply industries, just like NASCAR drivers. Perhaps medical office complexes selling naming rights to GlaxoSmithKline or Merck. Wouldn’t you like to be treated to revolving ads for Parke-Davis on digital signs in the waiting room just like at an NBA game?

The omnipresence of drug ads in the doctor’s office is incredibly tacky and insulting. But there are more serious reasons to be concerned about these ads. Are we to believe that the ubiquity of these drug logos has no influence on the prescriptions doctors write? Have no patients asked for a particular drug after seeing the ad and logo? We’re not talking about a simple quid pro quo. No, it’s not as simple as that. I believe the influence is far more subtle and disturbing.

Both my wife and I have become cynical about the ease with which our doctor reaches for his prescription pad — or offer a free sample — in response to virtually any medical difficulty we are having. He’s a pill pusher. And where does he get his information about the effectiveness of the drugs he prescribes? From the peer-reviewed research in medical journals? Hardly. (and who pays for that research anyway?) If the studies that have been done on this are anywhere close to accurate, doctors receive the majority of their information from the drug reps who ply them with free lunches, seminars in exotic places, and bundles of throw-away stuff.

Even if the doctors protest that the freebies make no difference in their prescriptions, surely the drug companies would not continue pouring billions of dollars into this strategy if they did not see a huge pay-off in the bottom line. Who is in the best position to know whether the strategy is working? Are the doctors so blinded by the drug company gifts that they fail to see the intimate relationship between their pile of freebies and the dramatic rise in drug prices? And we haven’t even gotten into the junkets that drug companies invite doctors on explain the benefits of their drugs.

Please, please, doctors, give me back the dignity of a sterile white logo-free office. I’m coming to be restored to health, not to be assaulted by drug company ads and logos everywhere I turn reminding me of every conceivable weakness I have, will, or could endure. Naomi Klein, we need your help on this one, too.


  1. Kenn, there’s still many more nooks to fill with ads on our doctor visits. Maybe it will become like baseball, “This call to the bullpen is brought to AT&T Wireless.” “This delivery to the plate is brought to you by FedEx”.

    …Just think they could put logos on the white gowns they make you wear. Or if you sign a few forms you could get your sponsorships for each of your deep breaths.

    …Or another apocolyptic vision: your doctor could be way more efficient if he were like the baristas at Starbucks. the other day I was in a starbucks placed my order and then realized that partway through the barista’s steady stream of words she had switched over to talking through her headset and helping the person in the drive-through. So, why can’t doctor’s do that too. Any milliseconds of downtime the doctor has they could be interviewing the next customer (i mean, patient).

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