Empathy is not just another marketing tactic

“When the doctor called me to tell me the results of the test I never expected her to say that I had MS.  To say that it turned my life upside down would be a huge understatement.  It forever changed my life and even with treatment the worries about my future are a part of me and my decisions”.  That quote was from a 37 year old woman we interviewed this year in research to learn about what newly diagnosed MD patients go through.

Anna is a business professional with a great company, but she she clearly articulates the worry she deals with everyday.  “My job, career, is high energy and I’m worried that I won’t be able to work at a high level.  What happens if I need time off from work?  How am I going to meet my financial obligations?”

We keep hearing about taking an empathetic approach to patient marketing, but clearly most pharma websites don’t take this approach.  When we asked Anna is any pharma companies were a resource to help her manage and learn about her disease, she said very quickly “oh, God, no”.   “I wanted to better understand how to live with MS and the best resource was the ability to talk, online, with other patients like me.  Pharma websites just didn’t have the information I needed or wanted”.  She went on to say “I don’t want people feeling sorry for me.  I want to know how to go on having a life with MS. What supplements can I take? What food should I avoid? How do I tell my husband and family members?”

I keep hearing this over and over from patients and caregivers in research yet very few actually mention that a pharma website was a good source of information.  Most spend hours online visiting multiple sites to get the information they want.  This is a huge wasted opportunity for biopharma companies.

Patient empathy is NOT a marketing tactic . It’s a way to approach patients and help them through the stress of treating some very bad, life changing, conditions. Some unbranded sites do a good job like GSK’s site on COPD, but too many sites just don’t give people what they want and need.

Research and using sites like “Patients Like Me” are not enough.  Patients should be part of your marketing team and you should be optimizing your listening as much as needed.  Take off your business hat and think like a patient.

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