Putting Patients in Pharma Context

By Daphne Swancutt

I’d planned on writing a brilliant post after last week’s  9th Annual ePharma Summit in Philadelphia. I wanted to explain why this statement made by one of the conference’s speakers always makes me bristle.

“Content remains King.”

Someone else’s brilliant post beat me to it, though (h/t Phil Baumann). Still, I have more, probably less brilliant, stuff to say on this irksome, but important, topic.

First, most of us have heard some version of the content-is-king quip. Few of us understand what it really means. So many seem clueless about the power of content. Hardly anyone in pharma knows how to do it well. Finally, and most important—and I did say something along this line at the conference: Content without context is just a bunch of rubbish. (And, by the way, bad content without context should be rammed down someone’s throat.)

One is lazy—that’d be content. The other—context—takes sweat, creativity and inspiration. And, yes, blah, blah, blah, it takes an understanding of the consumer—in this case, the patient.

And, therein lies the big, hairy, audacious challenge for pharma. Getting to know the patients—me, you, him, her, them, all of us. If ever, then now is the time for this industry to bolster itself and collectively recognize and embrace the power of the patient’s voice, be it critical, supportive, instructive and everything in between.

At least two presentations at ePharma made me sit straighter and listen closer for that reason. One was given by Dave deBronkart, a patient and cancer survivor who is on a mission to improve healthcare (you know how they say Dr. Oz is America’s Doctor? Well, let’s just say that Dave is America’s Patient).

That he was even presenting at a pharmaceutical conference was in itself remarkable, and kudos to KlickPharma for inviting him to speak (though he wasn’t part of the original speaker line-up). My hope is that all of the pharma marketers in the room also listened very closely. My fear is that many of them thought: “Wow…what a great story…wonder how long the next presentation will be. I’m hungry.”

Their loss.

The other was a joint presentation given by Ben Heywood of PatientsLikeMe and Rene Hansen of UCB, who are working together on a patient community for epilepsy. If the presentations were a tad cumbersome, the concept of pharma working with patient communities is the kind of vision the industry needs. It’s on par with Ernst & Young’s recently published annual global pharmaceutical report, which basically says that pharma needs to shuck its old business model and start shaking things up.

That kind of hustle means working up a sweat and getting intimate with patients—for real. Without that understanding, and the effort to make it happen, context never materializes.

And, without context…pffft.

If you want more on what happened at this year’s ePharma Summit, here are a few terrific round-up posts from other folks who were there:

Impactiviti Blog

Pharma Strategy Blog


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