Is it me or are presidential press conferences turning into infomercials? There is a reason that the federal government doesn’t want physicians accepting gifts from pharma. There is a reason that we all thought that direct to consumer advertising is a bad idea. When medical company reps speak with physicians, they are tightly bound by laws that limit them from making false claims about a product. A physician with bad information can not only harm people, but they can waste lots of money in the process. It would probably make good sense to have similar restrictions in place when a CEO speaks with leaders in DC who hold sway over billions of dollars. But then we wouldn’t be able to have the direct to consumer advertising that is President Trump’s daily COVID-19 updates. It’s no secret that any company would love business right now, but know what else they’d love? How about free advertising with a side of ‘Murica.
What better place to do that than a nationally televised Presidential press conference with incredible ratings in the middle of a crisis, where no one literally has anything to do except watch television? I mean if you can’t expect a physician to critically appraise a new medical product in the face of free salami, you can hardly blame the President for going gaga when Abbott told him they would save his beautiful, amazing, beloved, best-ever in history economy by pushing out half a million tests.
One can only imagine the President’s excitement when Abbott Labs informed him that they planned to produce 50,000 tests per day. Also they gave him one of his very own to play with. My contacts in the West Wing tell me that not only is he testing anybody who comes to visit him, he also tests Mike Pence several times per day just so he can see the lights change color.
But there may be a few details that Abbott’s CEO kept close to the chest, such as the fact that just because you make half a million tests, this does not translate to half a million real life people being tested.
To put it in terms the President might relate to, they would have to explain it like this. Making a COVID-19 test is like making an Atari game. Even if I give you half a million Atari games, you can’t play any of them unless you also have an Atari console. A few hospitals out there have Atari consoles and will be able to run these tests. (Yes I realize I’m mixing metaphors but just stay with me). As for the rest of the hospitals, well I’m sure that Abbott would be just super excited to sell them one at some point in the future. Right now though Abbott only has a few, and they’re going to a few designated hot spots. But if you know nothing else, just remember that Abbott is making the rapid COVID-19 tests, no one else is, you can buy one eventually, and if you feel at all nervous about this plan please relax and listen to this soothing recording of Michael Bolton’s greatest hits.
So really, what Abbott sold the administration is an imaginary number based on the potential tests they could make, not necessarily the actual number of tests that would be run. In their press conference on 4/8/20, Dr. Birx admitted as much, stating that the number of tests run are nowhere near the numbers that Abbott suggested. But more than selling the President on a plan, what they really sold was alot of future ID Now consoles. And in the end, isn’t that what’s most important?
Deep Ramachandran, M.D. is a Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep Medicine physician, founding CHEST Journal Social Media Editor, and co-Chair of ACCP Social Media Work Group. He blogs at Caduceusblog. He is on twitter @Caduceusblogger.