Dick Cheney Made LVADs Virtually Famous

April 21, 2014

DALLAS, TX — When somebody famous becomes ill or receives a life-saving therapy, it may be time for physicians to prepare for a wave of patient questions about the disorder and its treatments, according to researchers who studied the online interest in the care of one of the world's most famous cardiac patients[1].

Searches on Google, videos posted on YouTube, and messaging on Twitter that focused on left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) went up sharply at about the same time that former vice president Dick Cheney was implanted with a HeartMate 2 pump (Thoratec), according to Dr Ambarish Pandey and colleagues (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas). Their research, now online, will be published in the May 1 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology.

Their data were collected using the search engine's Google Trends feature for 2004 to 2013 and by personally scouring the video archiving and microblogging sites for LVAD-related postings over seven years ending in 2013. Not only did LVAD interest spike in the summer of 2010, when Cheney received the device, interest in heart transplantation went up similarly on the three barometers two years later when he received a new heart, according to the group.

As a control, they did the same kind of analysis for other widely publicized cases of celebrity medical conditions, including pulmonary embolism in Serena Williams in March 2011; bipolar disorder in Catherine Zeta-Jones in April 2011; and preventive surgery for "BRCA breast cancer" in Angelina Jolie in May 2013. The results were the same: online queries and other interest in the conditions went up sharply at the same time as the increased publicity.

"In total, our study suggests that a public figure's illness can have a significant impact on the public's interest in that condition," the group writes. "The implication of these data is that healthcare providers should be aware of illnesses occurring in prominent celebrities as they may be asked to discuss them with their patients."

For context, they note, the jump in public interest in LVADs was still "significantly lower than that for other common cardiac conditions like heart failure and heart attack."

The authors reported no financial associations or conflicts of interest.

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