When it comes to product placement, General Hospital has no shame in plugging a brand. In fact, all soaps have been guilty of it at some point or another. We’ve seen Days of Our Lives plug Midol and Cheerios, while the actors on Passions got stuck promoting K-Y massage oil. The results are often awkward and hilarious.
However, GH has been jumping on the advertising bandwagon more often with last year’s Doctor Strange campaign and digital videos where the show’s cast promoted the Oscars for ABC. Yet their latest promotion may have gone too far.
The Journal of the American Medical Association is criticizing the soap for giving out medical advice where it’s not warranted. The February storyline of Anna Devane, played by Finola Hughes, battling a rare blood cancer became a way to promote a medication called ruxolitinib produced by the pharmaceutical company, Incyte.
Hughes’ character is worried about a treatment called phlebotomy or bloodletting, which removes blood from a patient’s system as a part of their cancer therapy. That’s when the Incyte medication is offered as an alternative.
What the dialogue fails to mention is that bloodletting is a standard course of therapy along with aspirin and other medications like interferon and hydroxyurea. The Incyte medication still needs more medical research according to leading cancer specialists.
"Although targeting the underlying mutation is attractive, the clinical benefit to patients, particularly those with early disease, remains speculative," JAMA wrote. "Carefully conducted trials, which have not yet occurred, are required to justify an expanded role of this medication."
In fact, the drug is restricted to patients who can’t handle standard treatments. There are also side effects like anemia to factor in for patients who do take ruxolitinib. For a majority of patients, though, the bloodletting process is very effective.
"If we take away a couple of pints of blood every so often, people can go years, decades even without having any real problems," said Dr. Vinay Prasad, an assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Sciences University, "That's the mainstay of therapy. We use a lot of older medicines that can lower that blood count and mimic phlebotomy."
The GH storyline was a partnership with Incyte for Rare Disease Day, which is recognized each February. The company wanted to raise awareness for blood cancers like polycythemia vera, but it seems like the partnership was misguided, even though Hughes believed it would help give a voice to someone suffering from the disease.
“I think that it can be very isolating for a person if you have a blood cancer like that,” Hughes told ABC Soaps in Depth in February. “It’s hard to find somebody else who has it.”
The real issue is that it could give misinformation if a patient took everything in the GH storyline to heart. In fact, many patients live long and successful lives without interference from an experimental drug that used a soap storyline to promote its use.
GH needs to stay in their lane when it comes to medical advice. One misstep when it comes to a viewer's health really is stepping into dangerous territory. It’s best to suggest we go see Doctor Strange at the movie theater versus doling out medical information not controlled by a patient’s doctor.
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