Remembering Lisa Schwartz, a leading voice of evidence-based medicine

Published on
December 20, 2018

Late last month, we lost one of evidence-based medicine’s greatest thinkers and communicators of the last two decades when Lisa Schwartz passed away at the too-young age of 55. Lisa is survived by her husband and two beautiful children.

I first had the honor and good fortune of connecting with Lisa and her partner Steve Woloshin in the early 2000s, not long after they had jointly published a Health Affairs article on the impact that direct-to-consumer prescription drug ads can have on the increased use of newly approved medications. They argued that a “Drug Facts Box” was needed to accurately describe the benefits — and risks — of prescription drugs. 

I was familiar with the duo’s earlier work exposing the inadequacies inherent in many press releases lauding research findings and intrigued by their concept of having clear and understandable efficacy data in drug ads. That first call led to many, many more, and ultimately a number of important collaborations between the pair and Consumer Reports, beginning with Consumer Reports' “Best Buy Drugs” in 2004.

Over the next 14 years, Lisa and Steve were always my go-to experts on issues pertaining not only to drug advertising, efficacy, safety and screening, but also the growing phenomenon of overdiagnosis and overtreatment in medicine. 

The impact that Lisa had on the medical community, the media, and the public at large was substantial. And as the chief medical researcher for Consumer Reports, I made absolutely sure that all of our new writers had access to her book, “Know Your Chances: Understanding Health Statistics,” co-authored with Steve and also Gil Welch.

Not only has Lisa significantly enhanced the discussion about how best to communicate risk, and exposed the tactics employed by many in the pharmaceutical industry to increase sales and “adherence” to their brand-name medications, and continuously called for greater transparency in medicine, she also touched so many of us deeply as a caring and committed educator, colleague, and friend who always seemed to have time for us. There have been many beautifully written and heartfelt memories of Lisa shared recently, such as this wonderful ones by Danielle Ofri and Barry Kramer. Just this week, this touching essay by Iona Heath appeared in BMJ. I have difficulty reading these with dry eyes.

Many of us had been aware of Lisa’s earlier cancer diagnosis but, in my case anyway, had thought that the worst was behind her when we learned of her passing this month. There were no hints that she was ill. She spoke at the Too Much Medicine conference in Helsinki in August. And just a few months ago we were on a call together and she was joyful as ever, discussing some interesting research in the news and also some research she and Steve had been working on which was soon to be published. As she so often would do at the end of the call, she asked how I was faring now that I was no longer working at Consumer Reports, and inquired about my plans for the coming months. She asked to always let her and Steve know if there was ever anything they could do. That’s just who she was. Always thinking about others.

This community has lost an extraordinary individual. The concepts inherent in Slow Medicine were ultimately very much integral to her work. I will always remember Lisa’s integrity, her brilliance, creativity, meticulous attention to detail and her wonderful (often quite dry) sense of humor! She was a fearless, prolific investigator, teacher, and writer, and all of that combined with a sincere and honest caring commitment to all of her students, friends and family.

That is truly Lisa's legacy. 

When she was very young and asked who she would like to be when she grew up, Lisa said she wanted to be just like TV's “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” a kind, thoughtful family physician.

She grew up to be just that — and so much more.

I know I am not alone in saying just how much she is already missed. 

Chris Hendel recently retired as the chief medical researcher for Consumer Reports, where he spearheaded investigations into the use and misuse of medical interventions.