“Patients are only numbers on an Excel spreadsheet”

LEAD-IN: Yesterday I had a long talk with someone who has been in the industry for over 25 years. She has decided to leave the pharma industry because she said, “patients have been reduced to numbers on an excel spreadsheet” and “I am tired of trying to get coworkers to see them as people with real needs.”

According to my WordPress stats, I have over 100 readers a day. I love the industry and spend a lot of time talking to many of my colleagues about our challenges. Unfortunately, the number of people is decreasing and is being replaced by MBA types who love to do spreadsheet analysis.

I remember the first time I sat in qualitative research with patients experiencing depression. As I listened to their stories, my heart was touched, and I knew I had to “humanize” our communications with them. Even when I was on the Cialis team, I heard heartbreaking stories from couples who had suffered relationship issues because of the inability to be intimate with each other.

Today pharma is about “business.” According to data from the People’s Vaccine Alliance, Pfizer, BioNTech, and Moderna make $65k a minute in combined profits from their vaccines, based on profits reported in the three companies’ latest reports. Profits have become more important than people and patients.

I keep asking myself if it’s time to retire, but somehow I don’t want to give up because I still know and work with many people who care about the patients and caregivers we serve.

As you read this, can you honestly say that you’re trying to help patients, or have you bought into the rumor that the drugs we make help people so we can charge what we want? Until you hear from someone who has drained their savings to fight cancer or can’t afford insulin, you’re working in a state of denial.

As a former Air Force EMT, I knew that a massive part of helping victims was reassuring them that they would be OK as we treated and transported them. Today patients need more personal attention in a system that treats conditions rather than the patient.

As long as there are good people in the industry, change can happen. We should talk about patients as people; they are not market segments. DTC is not about creating awareness; it’s about providing a realistic answer to someone’s health problem. We should know by now that a TV commercial will not lead to a new Rx without going online to learn about drug side effects and costs.

I get emails from people in the industry who can’t comment because of legal issues within their company. It often leads to a discussion about how our industry has changed and how they are trying to change it for the better.

Empathy is a powerful tool in DTC marketing and should be required for every DTC manager. Less focus on spreadsheets; more emphasis on people and the good we do.