Can a TV show about disease management educate people who don't take their meds? Or does it just help sell expensive gadgets to motivated patients who are already doing better than most?

There has been a lot of discussion concerning scientific communication on this site recently, and a related article from Forbes caught my eye. The article poses the questions above regarding a new addition to the health communication toolbox - dLifeTV, a 30 minute show on CNBC (a "disguised informercial," says Forbes) about diabetes. The show is the brainchild of Howard Steinberg, a brand and marketing exec who founded the dLife company in 2004, and a diabetes patient for 40 years.

The dLife site, a springboard for the show, is a doozy - blogs, Q&A with experts, news, meals/recipes, information on all aspects of diabetes (Type 1 and 2, gestational, management of, etc), a forum, research, even a store. Steinberg is nothing if not great at what he does.

The site has 720,000 members, according the article, and 229,000 households tune in each Sunday for the half hour program; Steinberg says his viewers are better than most at managing their disease. No question patients can use more information and prodding, the article says.

Twenty-four million Americans suffer from diabetes, which can lead to heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and limb amputation; nearly half fail to keep the disease under control. One study found that 46 percent of recently diagnosed adult diabetics (type 2) don't take their medicine correctly. Diabetics rack up $174 billion a year in health spending, the government estimates.
Steinberg says that he doesn't interfere with editorial content. But what influence does $15 million in ad sales have on viewers? The article lists Ocean Spray (light cranberry juice), Merck (Januvia), Abbott (glucose monitors) and Rite Aid (pharmacy) as some of the advertisers. Two physicians quoted in the article suggest that patients aren't nearly as compliant as they should be anyway, and pushing expensive medical care is just contributing to skyrocketing health care costs. One doc (and former dLife guest) says he offered to do a randomized trial to see if people who watch the show improve their health, but Steinberg declined the offer because it was too expensive. Forbes also reports that the program doesn't cover subjects that might offend potential advertisers - case in point, when GlaxoSmithkline's Avandia was linked to higher rates of heart disease in 2007, the show didn't cover the story.

So what is it - public service, advertisement, both, neither? Does it matter, if it helps patients?