While I am glad that a top company has perfected MRI machines (truly, they are marvels and can show the smallest lesions), I am not sure about the message for the viewing public. Clearly, unlike laundry detergent, beer, or an automobile, an MRI is not a purchase choice for an average consumer. Should the person, when visiting the doctor, request that the MRI be done with a brand-name machine? Should he say, “Frankly, doctor, I would like my back imaged with the GE (or Siemens or whomever). I saw it on The Jay Leno Show last night; it gets really good images.” Maybe the ads are to build good will in a company like Boeing, whose ads I see a lot although I am not ready to buy one of their planes or missiles.
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The marketplace that is today’s media is a strange place. It can present public service announcements of the most esteemed kind or descend to hucksterism of the most venal. Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult for the average person to know which is which. Therefore, to the extent that physicians determine or influence the content of these ads, I hope that they will choose wisely. Our treatments are more valuable than vibrating magnets. We must act that way.
Dr. Pisetsky is physician editor of The Rheumatologist and professor of medicine and immunology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.