On this day, March 20, 1987, AZT (azidothymidine) became the first drug to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of AIDS.

Lawrence Grouse, MD, PhD

Medscape J Med. 2008;10(3):59. ©2008 Medscape
Posted 03/10/2008

In another commentary, I advocated the creation of a US health television network,[1] but I didn’t discuss the difficult issues in establishing it or in creating its medical content.

The medical content for a national health network would be crucial in establishing its value. The individuals and organizations with the responsibility for deciding this content cannot be influenced by proprietary interests. A diverse group of health educators who are without commercial bias is needed to make these decisions. Those with conflicts of interest should be excluded.

It is my opinion that medical professional groups are inappropriate judges of what health information to present precisely because of their conflicts of interest. These groups are primarily trade organizations that operate to benefit their members’ and their own financial interests.[2-6]

So, what organization should establish the US health network? Because the good health of the US population is so much in the interest of the US government, it is logical that the government should implement the network. It goes without saying that government policies are also influenced by proprietary interests, but the possibility of achieving the benefits of a health television network should persuade legislators to fund it in a way that would make it less vulnerable to commercial influence and more oriented to effective health education. The US government also has a long arm that can involve state and local governments, schools, public health clinics, and practicing physicians in an integrated program of health improvement. A US health network could be the medium that would link these resources together.

What about the expense of a US health network? In my opinion, commercial advertisements, as long as they are medically appropriate as regulated by the FDA and FTC, could cover these costs. In a business as profitable as television, even the government should be able to break even.[6]

These are just a few of the issues to deal with in establishing a health television network. And like all complex organizations, the devil is in the details, but what is most important is that we work to realize the power for health promotion that exists in television and in new communication technologies. We should not let the “business as usual” attitude prevent the implementation of this life-saving approach to public health.

That’s my opinion. I’m Dr. Larry Grouse, the Executive Director of the ARIA Initiative of the World Health Organization.


  1. Grouse L. Issues in creating a US health television network. Medscape J Med. 2008;10(2):27. Available at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/569156 Accessed March 7, 2008.
  2. Lundberg GD. And then there were none. The demise of national medical television. JAMA. 1995;273:891.
  3. Lundberg GD, Stacey J, Severed Trust: Why American Medicine Hasn’t Been Fixed. New York: Basic Books; 2000.
  4. Angell M. Drug Companies. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2004.
  5. Kassirer J. On the Take. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2005.
  6. Grouse LD. For Sale: US Medicine. Physicians For Sale. USHN, Inc. 2008. In press.

Lawrence Grouse, MD, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, Washington
Author’s email: lgrouse@u.washington.edu

Disclosure: Lawrence Grouse, MD, PhD, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships in addition to his employment.