The first article I wrote after TrueHealth launched in 2005, was in BrandWeek. It ran on April 24, 2006, with the headline “Drug Marketers, Take a Look In The Mirror.”
Part of it read as follows:
Get up. Go to the rest room. Look in the mirror, and realize: you are the patient. The guilty secret shared by pharmaceutical marketers everywhere is that every day we ask patients to change behaviors and take actions that we ourselves do not take. Ask your “inner patient,” have you ever suspected there was an issue with your health, but not done anything about it?
I was writing about the most fundamental part of becoming patient-centric — walking in in a patient’s shoes. As marketers, we do not need more focus groups, data, research or positioning statements. What we need is more one-on-one contact with the people who need our products. Compassion is the greatest strategy of all. I have learned this lesson personally, the very hard way. This is the time of year when I think about how the experience being the patient changed my life.
My first foray into pharma was as my family’s Designated Online Researcher. I was the youngest, I had always liked email, they thought I worked on the Internet, you know how families are. Broad strokes.
My task was to learn all about melanoma. In 1998, there was not much online, but I did my job. I visited Web MD, DrKoop (remember him?), Johns Hopkins, the American Cancer Society — ever narrower searches. I found so little tangible information. And what I did find was terribly grim. No way was I reporting what I had learned to my family yet.
So, I dug deeper, hours every day, on and off work time, evenings, weekends.. . surfing, endless surfing.And with it that sense of increasing frsutation — why were there no answers?
In a month, I knew the answer to a broad range of general questions, all fed by the one underlying major question: will melanoma kill your sister? What are her chances?
I lied to my family. I looked my mother in the eye and told her I found nothing conclusive.
Of course, this lie only lasted a little while — the disease was taking its course, and the facts were evident. I was not the patient, but two years before my sister passed, I had brushed against the shadow of her living with a disease and her subsequent, inevitable death.
My sister, Noreen O’Neill, never admitted to anyone that she was going to die — even after going through two rounds of interleukin II down at NIH. Her definition of “being the patient” meant never giving in one inch. Take your meds. Demand the doctor’s time. Find a clinical study. Search, never-ending search.
I care so deeply about my work, and that of my peers, partners and clients, because of her. The best of us know that what we do IS about the patient. Their needs, their gaps, their fears, their wallets and their hearts. It is the wohle human we dela with. And every one of us has been the patient — whether for high blood pressure or a flu to cancer or thousands of other things. We have either experienced a health crisis ourselves, or been at a loved one’s side during theirs. We have been the patient.
It is our responsibility to do the right thing for people and for their families — to create programs that arm them with knowledge and support. Every one of these people will touch the world of health care communications we create. Compassion should be the first strategic imperative in brand planning. I truly believe the brands that get this will be more successful.
My sister’s final months were spent using her charm and will to create a foundation for melanoma research. http://www.foundationformelanomaresearch.org/
Their are millions searching, searching, searching for informaiton as you read this.