COMMENTS: Three New Healthwatch

All three networks filed medical features. NBC's Mika Brzezinski told us about an experimental surgical treatment for diabetes. Many obese patients who undergo gastric bypass surgery to lose weight discover the "unexpected side effect" that their diabetic symptoms disappear. Brzezinski introduced us to Leonard Maffucci, a surgeon who cuts the duodenum out of diabetic patients, even if they are not obese. "We do not really know why this might be working," Brzezinski warned. Maffucci agreed.

CBS' Wyatt Andrews, who had already filed from the Supreme Court, did double duty in a probe of the pharmaceutical industry--Doctors Under the Influence?--in conjunction with Business Week. As much money as Big Pharma spends on advertising to patients, Andrews told us that it spends even more, some $57bn annually, in direct payments to physicians. The money pays for lectures, clinical trials, consulting, speaking at seminars, academic research--"not just the free samples and the pens." So the obvious question arises: do Big Pharma's funds influence researchers in their diagnoses and clinicians in their prescriptions? "Fixing this problem is complicated because many relationships between doctors and drug companies are legitimate and necessary to achieve medical breakthroughs."

ABC's medical feature by John McKenzie turned out to be a promo for his network's primetime six-part documentary series Hopkins, on the healthcare operation at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore. McKenzie profiled the same neurosurgeon who had been the topic of Steve Hartman's Assignment America a year ago: Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa uses the same fingers to cut out brain tumors that he once used to pick tomatoes as a migrant farmworker 20 years ago. He entered California at age 19 by illegally climbing over the border fence from Mexico in search of a better life.


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