By Bob Faw Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/24/2006 12:38:34 PM ET 2006-02-24T17:38:34

When it comes to taking our medicine, we are ambivalent — sometimes favoring the black-and-white approach; and, sometimes yearning for the quick fix of a magic elixir that cures all ills.

That frontier rustic has been replaced by giant pharmaceutical companies, which last year spent more than $4 billion to advertise prescription drugs like Nexium's "little purple pill."

All that advertising is buttressed by streams of scientific studies which sometimes seem to promise the moon — studies which are sometimes followed by later reports which say those same products were no more effective than placebos.

Still, we have become conditioned, says Advertising Age’s Rich Thomaselli, to expect nothing less than the ultimate.

"Come and try our brand; we'll do more for you… we have an answer for your problems,” Thomaselli says. “And it's not ‘take two aspirin and call me in the morning,’ or ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away.’”

Often lost in the commotion — and promotion — is old-fashioned common sense, which, for the last 32 years, family doctor Patrick Harr has been dispensing in Merryville, Mo.

“Sometimes it's better to do nothing,” Harr says. “There's nothing wrong with watchful waiting.”

Occasionally popular culture still esteems that low-key approach of the disheveled country doctor giving soda to relieve stomach pain. But nowadays how many physicians would dare recommend something that home-spun, with so many patients more informed — and misinformed — than ever before?

“It's almost like a topsy-turvy world that's gone upside down,” Harr says.

And that leaves a country full of patients wondering if what they're getting really is just what the doctor ordered?

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