Buyers’ Remorse Vs.
Gratitude: What Feelings Do The MD Anderson “Redline” TV Commercials Engender In
Patients?

By

Leonard Zwelling

         If you want to really learn about cancer, forego the
Internet and grand rounds. Talk to a patient.

Nothing
can engage me more than a discussion with a cancer patient who describes his or
her experience of dealing with the oncologic segment of the health
care-industrial complex. Of course, I bump into many in Houston and many have
been MD Anderson patients. Most of these patients think the care they received was
excellent and their doctors considerate and caring. The wait times are always
deemed excessive, but most patients understand that Anderson is trying to care
for a large number of people with complex illnesses and each visit takes time.
I wonder if those asking the faculty to see one or two more patients get that.

So
I was surprised to have a detailed discussion with one of these MD Anderson patients
who does not live in Houston, but who has seen the MD Anderson TV commercials
of talking heads in front of a sterile pale background. The patient finds these
off-putting, because they do not seem to be patient-centered. The faces are not
identified by name or by job (or even as a physician vs. a patient). The patient
with whom I had this discussion felt the commercial was aimed at referring
physicians, not at potential patients. This patient began to wonder if the
choice he or she made for treatment, flying into Houston on two planes and
staying at the Rotary House, was a wise one.

The
patient asked me if I thought the Cancer Treatment Centers of America was the
real deal. I think that it is because Maurie Markman, a friend and past
colleague at Anderson, was a superb and caring doctor and I doubt he would have
stayed with anything but a quality company. Maurie is the President of CTCA’s
Medicine and Science Unit. The patient was commenting on how much better the
CTCA’s TV commercials were than were MD Anderson’s.

The
CTCA commercials showed the warm looking environment for patients, discussed
ancillary services like nutrition, and names every face flashed across the
screen and identifies his or her role in care and treatment delivery. The
patient thought that this commercial was far more patient-friendly than those
with the redline eliminating cancer.

The
current MD Anderson commercials ought to be compared with the ones from 20 or
so years ago.

In
these, an Anderson patient appeared to be doing an athletic activity, let’s say
hitting a softball. Just as the bat hits the ball the frame freezes and a 360-degree
arc is made around the patient in stop action. Then the bat contacts the ball and the
hit finishes.

The
metaphor was not lost on patients. Cancer stops your life and MD Anderson does
what it takes to allow your life to get back on track and continue. These were great and everyone in
Houston was talking about them. These were commercials that, if memory serves,
were aimed to increase patient flow to Anderson after the need for a referral
from an outside physician to get to Anderson was removed by then Governor Bush.
It worked and away went the money train that appears a bit sidetracked right
now if Dan Fontaine is to be believed in his presentation to the faculty.

If
the current commercials with the redline through cancer are not speaking to
potential patients or worse, not speaking to those who already are patients, but are
suffering from the cognitive dissonance of buyers’ remorse, those commercials
must end and be replaced by something that speaks to all cancer patients—new or
already registered. If MD Anderson wants to speak directly to patients, it
might start by listening to them.

Leonard Zwelling