Prescription to Listen

An article by Rich Thomaselli in this week’s Ad Age observes that drug-makers are finally starting to see the benefit of listening to their consumers, thanks in part to the recent increase in patient-focused social networking sites. 

One such site, Patients Like Me, is an online community where people can gather to share information about their respective illnesses, as well as provide support and opinions on treatment options.  Co-founder and president Ben Heywood says of the site, “the challenge with health care is that it’s always been very individual, very personalized…[Patients] have different things going on, different needs, different problems they want to talk about. You need to solve those problems specific to that person…”

We saw this need for personal support and validation during research we have done on conditions like Fibromyalgia, incontinence, menopause, menoraghia—complicated conditions that can present differently in each case, making it difficult to diagnose and to treat.  These are also diseases that can carry a stigma (thanks to their ever changing laundry lists of symptoms), with some physicians dismissing the symptoms as purely psychological which can result in incomplete or incorrect treatment.  When we spoke to patients with these conditions, the universal wish was to be heard.  They wanted to know that their doctors were listening to them, believing them.  That their disease was real and they weren’t alone.  That validation was almost as important as physical relief. 

Patients Like Me gives patients a chance to be heard by the people that can make a difference.  Talk about transparency, they let their posters know that the information they exchange on the site will be sold to pharma companies—with the purpose of enhancing care and creating better solutions.  After all, how is a drug company supposed to know how to sell their products to a patient if they don’t understand what she wants or what she worries about? How will a physician know how to diagnose if they don’t know what to listen for—they need to learn to speak her language, because chances are she doesn’t speak like a textbook.  Bravo for making the effort to listen to real women!

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