We have long thought that a fairly significant dividing line between the pharmaceutical and device sectors of healthcare is that the so-called “person on the street” is much more likely to know the names of drugs and their manufacturers than devices and their manufacturers. And this is probably a disadvantage to the device people. Or is it?

The difference in perception was underlined in our story on Heart Rhythm 2005 on Friday (“Futurist: pessimism for drugs, good value seen in devices,” May 6, 2005), in which Ian Morrison, PhD, said: “the general public has no clue who the device companies are.” And he predicted that if people ever do become familiar with those products and their makers, the impression will favor devices over drugs.

Interestingly, people probably are becoming a tad more familiar with the device arena. Some anecdotal evidence:

Last year, my father-in-law had heart problems, needed a coronary stent and was anxious to get the “new kind” – meaning one of the drug-eluting sort. (Okay, maybe I had told him about the new DES products, but I don’t remember doing so.)

And one of my neighbors, who had mentioned that she has a pacemaker made by Medtronic, recently had to take her father to the hospital to have the battery of his pacemaker checked. She thought the device was made by Guidant, but it too was a Medtronic product, she discovered. (Okay, some confusion, but she knew the manufacturers’ names.)

The device sector is creeping into other areas of general consciousness as well, often in unexpected ways.

The New York Times – which we concede tends to be leading-edge about many topics – recently ran stories on some interesting new med-tech . . . and art.

A show at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, “Extreme Textiles: Designing for High Performance,” featuring a range of high-tech textiles, was reviewed by Grace Glueck in the Arts section (“Finding a Flair in the Smartest Fabrics of Our Lives,” April 15). In the review she focused on the show’s display of some innovative fabrics used in medical devices, and she specifically mentioned the CorCap cardiac support device, which we have written about several times. Though describing how the CorCap is “electrospun from nanofibers,” she did omit naming its manufacturer, Akorn Cardiovascular of St. Paul, Minnesota. But the review also was accompanied by a close-up photo of a “woven vascular graft,” with Boston Scientific given the photo credit.

Medical depiction of the body, even before Gray’s Anatomy, has long been a subject for art. And another story in the Times detailed the newest, high-tech permutations from modern imaging going far beyond Gray’s work (“What Leonardo Could Have Done With a CAT Scan,” April 19). In “Visionary Anatomies,” an exhibit at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington (concluding May 20), artists use X-rays, angiograms and other imaging modalities as jumping-off points for a range of striking images.

Beyond these examples, awareness of new high-tech device treatments is being pushed primarily by a growing wave of direct-to-consumer advertising and Internet sites focused on herding consumers to new technologies and their manufacturers.

Is all this, as Morrison indicates, a plus? Maybe not.

The Times’ most recent focus on the sector was an article last week on Philips’ HeartStart home automated external defibrillator, the first AED to be sold without a prescription (“Do It Yourself: The Home Heart Defibrillator,” May 3).

Rather than applauding greater consumer access to the device, the story begins with the potential downsides: that ready AED availability in the home might delay a 911 call; and that AED use must come with CPR – which the AED user might not know, resulting in a much less positive outcome for the heart attack victim.

The story, we note, was balanced, giving the manufacturer’s views and, overall, providing Philips huge unpaid-for publicity for the device. But “balance,” for modern media, too often means controversy. And as the general public becomes more aware of the names of devices and who made them, sector coverage increasingly will highlight the negatives, not just the positives.

The point would seem to be that medical device manufacturers need to continue targeting information to clinicians and shareholders but that news tailored for the general public comes with significant unintended side effects (to use a bit of healthcare jargon).

It could be that the general public is a friend that the device sector may want but doesn’t really need.