In 2016, healthcare provider Cigna came up with a genius idea: Instead of using real doctors to talk to people about their health, why not use fake ones? And thus, their hugely popular “TV Doctors of America” campaign came to be.
Consumers and advertising pros alike responded enthusiastically to the 30-second commercial which starred well-known “MDs” from hit shows including “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” and “Scrubs.”
The campaign was so popular that Cigna revived it in 2017 with actors Kate Walsh (“Private Practice”), Patrick Dempsey (“Grey’s Anatomy”), Neil Patrick Harris (“Doogie Howser, M.D.”), and Donald Faison (“Scrubs”) scrubbing in.
Amidst a flurry of gurneys and IV stands, the TV docs dish on fantasy vs. reality: “We may not know much about medicine, but we know a lot about drama. We also know you can avoid drama by getting an annual checkup.”
While the video pokes fun at Hollywood melodrama, hospital romances, and outrageous plot twists, the message couldn’t be more serious. We sat down with one of the stars, Donald Faison, to talk more about why the campaign is so important.
For the actor — who played wisecracking Dr. Christopher Turk on the successful comedy “Scrubs” for nearly a decade — it’s personal.
“I have very young children,” says Faison. “I’m 43 now, so when my 2-year-old is 20, I’ll be 60-something, so it’s very important for me to be healthy and know where I’m at. I want to be around for my kids.”
But Faison is also passionate about spreading the message to others: “It’s a powerful message that Cigna and the TV doctors are trying to relay to the American people. It could save lives.”
Focusing on “well care” instead of “sick care”
While he may not be a certified MD, Faison has his facts straight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as
“A lot of people don't go and get annually checked up because they’re either afraid or they don't think they need to,” Faison explains. “Then when they do go, it's when they’re really sick and they think now’s the time to go to the doctor.”
The Cigna campaign highlights the importance of tracking basic stats and health indicators that are part of annual checkups, including blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and body mass index (BMI).
“Your numbers are your numbers, but you're better off knowing your numbers so you can see where you need to focus on your health — whether it be exercise, or having to take a pill, or whatever,” says Faison. “You don't want to take action too late. Go, know, and take control of your health.”
While the actor’s message is serious, he’s not afraid to bring some humor to the conversation — in fact, he credits humor with getting the message across: “Humor definitely works. I think that’s what made ‘Scrubs’ such a success. I think that’s why this campaign has done as well as it has also.”
And Americans’ familiarity with the characters telling them to go get their checkups also helps, too. “There’s something about trusting the people that are in your home every week to tell you to go and get a checkup,” he adds. “You might listen a little more if Christopher Turk, or Jamie, or Doogie Howser says you should get a checkup.”
“We’re trying to get everybody to a doctor’s office through humor, by saying: ‘I’m not a real doctor. I can’t tell you what your ailments are, but I can tell you, as a TV doctor, that it’s really important to go get your annual checkup and it’s really important to be in control of your health.’”
So what do Turk, Doogie, Addison, and McDreamy want you to take away from their entertaining commercial? According to Faison, it’s simple: “We want you to go to cigna.com/TakeControl. There you can find all the information you need about preventive care.
“If I can’t get you off the couch, but I can direct you there, that’s a step.”