The Power of Patients
Today I was reading an interesting op-ed in MM&M called “Is it time for pharma ad agencies to reboot?” and one sentence caught me up:
“There’s something odd about calling patients “consumers,” as if they’re a pack of moms selecting cereal in supermarket aisles.”
Now to be clear, I have zero business second-guessing the author, one of the original pharma marketing gurus (Sander Flaum). I was surprised, though. Because in my opinion, if anything, we don’t call patients – and healthcare professionals – consumers often enough.
“Consumer,” to me, implies someone who has agency. “Patient,” all too often, implies someone who doesn’t.
This is changing, of course. “The empowered patient” is absolutely a real phenomenon, largely thanks to the internet. And speaking as a patient who has sat many times with my laptop open to an Evernote full of extensive research – and deeply appreciated being taken seriously by my care team – I’m definitely not saying that patients don’t have agency, don’t take control, don’t make decisions. Absolutely patients do. And should. But the word’s connotations haven’t evolved yet.
Speaking both as a marketer and as a patient (as we all are), I believe it’s a good thing whenever we remind ourselves that patients can be powerful.
Now, Flaum points out that “The risk of a purely patient-centric focus is that physicians end up as irrelevant,” and that we have an “obsession on direct-to-patient advertising”.
Certainly, we need to avoid any situation where medical knowledge is discounted. And my opinion with just about everything is that America and Americans would benefit by doing a lot more looking outward to see what we can learn from rest of the world. (And the US and New Zealand remain alone in legalizing DTC advertising, of course.)
But thinking of patients as consumers can help us, as marketers, to remember that these are are dimensional human beings, not collections of symptoms. Making patients feel like they’re capable of comparing their options and making decisions about their health? To me, that’s not odd. That’s vital.