This past February, General Hospital character Anna Devane was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called polycythemia vera (PV). This plot point was sponsored by Incyte to correspond with Rare Disease Month. The month is meant to raise awareness with policy makers and the public about rare diseases.
Last week, Drs. Mailankody and Prasad published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in which they raised four questions about disease awareness campaigns, in response to the General Hospital plot:
Is disease awareness marketing in disguise? This pertains to situations, such as in PV, where there is only one approved treatment for the disease.
Do disease awareness campaigns promote specific drug sales? In situations where there are multiple approved treatments for a condition, do these campaigns impact the sales of all the possible treatments?
Does disease awareness have benefits? This is plausible for conditions where early treatment is superior.
Could this campaign lead to over-diagnosis? The authors note this is only a danger for conditions with non-specific diagnostic criteria (such as PV).
While Drs. Mailankody and Prasad end their article by calling for more oversight from the FDA on disease awareness campaigns, others have praised the General Hospital plot point because caregivers, who are likely to be home during the day while soap operas are playing, may be the first to notice symptoms of a rare disease in their loved ones.