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Critics Decry DTC Device Ads. They're Wrong.

Today's Star-Ledger of Newark, NJ has an extensive piece on what some advocacy groups see as a troubling trend toward more direct-to-consumer ads for medical devices. "You would think they were buying candy when it involves serious surgery," said a spokeswoman for one.

The article goes on to note that CDRH has few resources to devote to scrutinizing DTC device ads, and most are looked at only glancingly by the agency before airing. But there is good reason why drug ads need to be heavily scrutinized before airing, and device ads don't: the role that the doctor plays in the process. If a patient comes in and asks for a specific drug, it doesn't take much effort on the doctor's part to grant the patient's wishes. All the doctor has to do is write a prescription. And there is a risk that he or she will do so even if not fully aware of the drug's risks and benefits. The doctor usually doesn't notice them unless the patient comes back with a problem. But surgery is different. The doctor is intimately involved and must be familiar with all the available products that could be used. The doctor's opinion of the available devices matters greatly; if he or she is not comfortable with using a product in surgery, it won't be used, regardless of the patient's wishes. And if a problem or complication arises, the doctor knows about it, for sure. And certainly remembers it the next time the device is being considered for use. The responsibility and potential liability is too great to leave these decisions to the whims of marketers and those who listen to them. The comments in the article by the National Research Center for Women and Families and the petition sent to FDA by the Consumers Union imply that doctors, or at least some of them, are stupid enough to let commercial messages override medical judgment when it comes to performing risky surgical procedures. It is a rather insulting stance. And it is also insulting for a media outlet to give that stance such prominence.  

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