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I had the opportunity to speak at a digital pharma marketing conference – DTC Perspectives’ Marketing to the Digital Consumer – last week. “DTC” is Direct To Consumer, by the way. I was representing the patient voice, at the invitation of my friends at the health activist community WEGO Health.

It was terrific for several reasons – connecting with other healthcare social media peeps in pharma, meeting and mingling with some powerful voices in pharma leadership, learning more about the regulatory environment that pharma marketers work in – but the biggest “wow!” that day happened between my ears.

I realized that pharmaand healthcare in toto – is desperate for its own #arabspring. A complete re-alignment of the entire system, driven from the bottom up, that will benefit all players: pharma, health systems, clinicians, researchers, patients … people. All of us.

This epiphany arrived courtesy of a combination of factors.

First, I felt a little like a zoo animal, since I was the only one at the conference wearing an Official Patient sign. I found that amusing, since everyone in the room is a patient at some level, even if they’re only seeing a doc once a year for a check-up. I’m not even a pharma consumer who’s on a buffet of drugs, although I do take a fat handful of supplements every morning. Why are patients seen as exotic creatures by pharma, and by most of the healthcare industry?

Patients = people, people. Treat us like … people.

Second, since I also wear a PR/media/content-creator hat, I saw that they were making a real effort to understand how they could take advantage of social media as a direct-marketing tool. They were approaching this as an industry with a huge regulatory oversight burden, from the FDA to the US Patent & Trade Commission to the host of regulatory bodies in other countries where these companies sell pharma products to doctors or direct to consumers.

Some of the regulatory step-on they’re struggling with they brought on themselves with “me-too” drug formulation and disease-mongering (“restless leg syndrome”? Really?). In conversation with a couple of high-level folks from big pharma, I learned that they routinely hear “we’ll have to run this past sales” when they want to try a new approach to communicating with their market. Why does sales drive communication? If pharma wonders why they’re seen as a scrum of hucksters, look no further than “running it past sales” when it comes to new ideas.

That combination of being seen as an exotic because I was a patient, and recognizing that, as an industry, pharma is an inverted pyramid crushing itself under the weight of heavy regulation caused, and continued, by a run-it-by-sales communication model, led me to the idea that people (a/k/a “patients”) need to #arabspring this b*tch.

People – patients – need to examine their relationship(s) with healthcare, and pharma, and ask what value they are getting from those relationships. Tell those that help how they’re doing, and tell those that aren’t to either clean up their act or take a hike.

Don’t fall for disease-mongering.

Don’t settle for less-than-full disclosure from any of your healthcare providers – in other words, ask why your doctor is prescribing a name drug, if a generic is available.

Act as if your health is YOUR responsibility. Get off the couch, call a halt to drive-through nutrition, examine your habits and ditch what doesn’t serve you, and your health.

Engage with pharma companies who provide you or your family with drugs that work, and tell them so.

Rabble-rouse the FDA to stop standing on innovation, and to start freeing up both farm AND pharm to help us eat better, and help researchers bring new drugs that actually help to market.

Take to the the streets by visiting your local farmer’s market and buying/cooking local. Boycott processed cr*p disguised as food.

The presentation deck I used at the conference, with added narration, is linked here.

I welcome comments, arguments, suggestions.

I recommend that you read my buddy Phil Baumann’s take on “we are all patients”. (He’s right, BTW – which is why I say patients = PEOPLE, people.)

That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it …

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