Tuesday, February 6, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, February 6, 2001

Doctor not just playing around

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Staff Writer

If you thought that dimpled doctor on the Kaiser Permanente commercial was an actor hired for his warm smile and exuberant charm, that’s wrong. That’s wrong, wrong, wrong.

Vincent Au really is a doctor, though he never wanted to play one on TV. When he was approached to star in one of the Kaiser commercials, he wrote up a letter full of reasons why his colleagues would be better suited for the honor. The advertising team was not dissuaded, and despite his reluctance Dr. Au found himself sitting in front of a camera talking about the health care system in which he works.

The commercial wasn’t scripted, not even the now-infamous "Wrong, wrong, wrong!" line. It was shot interview style, and he just spoke from the heart. Talking to him face to face, you realize that, unlike so much of what’s on TV, that commercial captured the real deal.

"When I’m at work, I have fun," he says. "I want my patients to see me as a regular person rather than a guy in a white coat who might make them cry."

We sit down to chat over coffee, and he offers me that big smile and a lollipop. He even lets me pick the color. I try to remember the last time a doctor ever gave me anything other than trial-size Advil.

Vincent Au comes from a family of health care professionals. His father is a dentist, his sister a dental hygienist, and his brother a well-known dentist and magician who has just about the best name in the profession — Les Au. He grew up in Aina Haina, graduated from Kalani in ’80, and went through college and med school at UH-Manoa.

In family practice at both Kaiser’s Koolau and Kahuku clinics, Au treats newborns through geriatrics, sometimes generations of the same family. His face lights up when he talks about how much he loves what he does. "Some of my patients have charts so thick they’re on volume two, but I don’t even have to look at them because I know them."

He describes boisterous celebrations with patients when they feel better or reach a medical milestone, and says he enjoys asking his senior patients to share their stories and life advice with him. "They love to talk," he says — and you get the idea that he loves to listen. "For those few minutes, their arthritis pain or whatever goes away."

Has the TV commercial changed his life? It’s on heavy rotation and even ran locally during halftime of the Super Bowl. What’s it like being famous? How does it feel to be a celebrity?

Dr. Au takes exception to those terms.

No, not famous or a celebrity, he says. Put it this way, the bottom-line test: Do strangers call out your name when you walk down the aisles at Longs? Yes, he admits. All the time.

But true to form, Dr. Au doesn’t see this as a negative thing. It’s a chance for him to meet new people, to hear new stories. And that can’t be wrong, wrong, wrong.

Lee Cataluna’s e-mail address is lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com

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