The strangest thing happened to me the other night. Upon glancing at the menu at a local bistro, I noticed a complete absence of warm, affirming promises. Nowhere did the proprietors profess to be diner-centric. Nowhere was it stated that the service staff had been trained in the dark art of customer-centrism, nor that their vittles were prepared in accordance with accepted principles of non-airborne-virus-centricity. The menu simply listed a bunch of food items, separated neatly by course and molecular composition (solid/liquid).
This provided a compelling contrast with a healthcare experience I enjoyed the previous morning. The offices of the local physician farm were adorned with all sorts of signage, each depicting a immaculately lab-coated physician deeply engaged in conversation with a comely, attentive patient — no doubt about a totally chill, non-debilitating condition, judging by their bright countenances. When I went to get a prescription filled at my insurance-plan-approved pharmacy, I was similarly welcomed with open arms, accompanied by a promise from the nice lady behind the counter that she could answer any question, address any concern, and maybe even jump-start my car in a pinch. A quick post-pharmacy check of the product’s mobile website (responsively designed!) continued in this same vein; the only way it could’ve been more accommodating and Larry-focused would have been via the addition of heart emojis.
This is a roundabout way of saying: Maybe it’s time for pharma and healthcare marketers to put all the “patient-centric” talk on the shelf — not the actual paying-attention-to-patients part of it, but the trumpeting of it as the most noble of life-science virtues.
This is a business that is, first and foremost, about curing, treating, and otherwise caring for patients. Shouldn’t an advanced degree of patient-centricity have been baked into every company’s DNA from the outset? Just as restaurateurs and haberdashers and DJs don’t blow out their rotator cuffs patting themselves on the back for their focus on their core clientele, so too should healthcare marketers get out of the habit of such self-congratulation. If this ain’t the most elementary aspect of their jobs, it’s close.
Hey, we’ve been guilty of preaching the patient-centric gospel. I’m too lazy to input “MM&M patient-centric” into the ol’ Google machine, but I can’t imagine such a search wouldn’t produce multiple pages worth of results. We’ve fallen into the trap in the past, because “patient-centric” rolls off the tongue so easily. It’s a simple, innocuous catchphrase in the age of the empowered health consumer (itself a simple, innocuous catchphrase). Who in healthcare can possibly be anti-patient-centricity? If you’re patient-centric, you’re always on the right side, friend. It’s like being pro-ice-cream.
Really: Any pharma marketer, drug developer or payer-side exec — hell, any mopper of hospital floors or booker of MRI reservations — who’s not compulsively, hysterically patient-centric is in the wrong line of work. If you are, maybe go write poems instead? You can get away with self-absorption and audience-abnegation as a poet. You cannot in healthcare.
So let’s agree to banish “patient-centric” from our descriptive toolkit. As communicators, we’re better than that. We’ve got other horns to toot.
That is all. “Beyond the pill,” consider yourself on notice.
Larry Dobrow is senior editor at MM&M.