I’m not a fan of buzzwords: not only do they tire with time but they also constrict discussion and usually end up being the object of unimaginative and disconnected marketing efforts. In recent years, we have seen the emergence of the ePatient. And sure enough, we can now see that the term is beginning to be usurped by marketers. Of course, the ethics and effectiveness of that kind of marketing depends on the quality of execution.
SAY HELLO TO THE fPATIENT
A new service – which I won’t give direct attention-traction to by linking to its website here – promises to deliver revenues to healthcare organizations wishing to market to so-called ePatients. This service employs the use of a fictive patient named Sara Baker who even has a fictive Facebook profile. The bio on her profile (Page actually) discloses that she isn’t real but “represents healthcare consumers like you and me”. She is an fPatient.
Is that ethical? Is it an acceptable marketing practice to build a fake composite social object in order to facilitate the push for a product or service? There are differing opinions on that – some of which were raised on the weekly healthcare social media Twitter chat hcsm.
In my opinion, I think that the ethical standards for marketing healthcare ideas and products and services must be above board. Why? Because healthcare is a continuum, a stream, and when one part of the industry is tainted by fakery – no matter how seemingly insignificant – there’s always the chance that such fakery can leach into the stream.
One could argue that faux patients have been heavily used in traditional marketing: from billboard ads to television commercials. We perhaps can understand that kind of use given the limited nature of traditional media.
But when it comes to emerging media, especially the kind that allows conversation, it becomes critical that those conversations are honest and sincere and free of sham. That’s the key difference here: Sara isn’t conversing with consumers (someone else or some thing is) – and in spite of the tiny disclosure in her profile, there’s nothing in her stream to indicate that she’s not real – other than the fact that her status updates are droll and mechanical.
MARKETING MEDIOCRITY AND CREATIVE ANEMIA
Which raises another question: Is the deployment of fake profiles in Healthcare Marketing even necessary? Marketing not only has to be effective, it also has to be respectable. Why create a fake social object when so much more social capital can be built by simply being honest and truthful and direct? Why not take advantage of direct interaction and feedback?
Marketing in the 21st Century is evolving. The properties of emerging media are different from the properties of the unilateral mass communications media of TV, print and radio. Marketers who fail to understand those differences and invest in the time and resources to acquire the skills and proficiency for remarkable healthcare communications will eventually suffer a creative anemia.
Sara Baker can fool some people and maybe she’ll help her creators deliver some revenues to their clients. But she’s a mediocre and fake substitute for the hard work required to be remarkable in healthcare communications.
Healthcare Marketers: if you want to have a well-paying career in ten years, know that the cost of Dreck is rising. Fakery is Dreck. In today’s world, Dreck isn’t just bad copy or ugly creative design: it’s in poor social design and mediocrity of voice. Do you honestly want your name associated with Dreck?
You can debate and justify the ethics of using the fPatient ad nauseum but you’re better off investing your time in becoming fluent and proficient in conversational media. Otherwise, forget about social media. You still have some time left to benefit from traditional marketing: most of your customers probably aren’t using social media that much right now anyway. But time is running out.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN ePATIENT
The fPatient raises one final point here about labels and it’s very pertinent to the fPatient marketing.
It’s convenient to have a simple label to convey a message and make distinctions. When it comes to health care, however, language matters because how we use words influences how we think and feel and behave.
Let’s take two sentences to illustrate:
- “Tom is a schizophrenic.”
- “Tom has schizophrenia.”
By referring to Tom as a schizophrenic, his disorder is overlayed on his person. But Tom is a human being who happens to have a brain disorder. Tom isn’t his disorder. Such labeling can potentially influence how providers and others interact with him.
But by saying that Tom has schizophrenia, we are clearer in our language and aren’t confusing Tom with his disorder. Make sense?
So let’s extend this reasoning to ePatient. By referring to patients as ePatients, we encounter a similar problem of confusing the person with an aspect of their behavior.
When we say “Tom is an ePatient” what does that mean to a nurse or a doctor? If Sally is also an ePatient, does that mean a nurse should treat Tom and Sally the same with regard to their ePatiency (how’s that for a neologism)?
For when it comes to Tom’s and Sally’s use of online media and the way they speak for themselves, they can have different empowerment styles:
- “Tom uses various social media to acquire health care information and communicate with his providers.”
- “Sally scours PubMed for her healthcare information, prefers to communicate face-to-face with her providers and actively participates in online diabetes forums.”
That added layer of information is more useful to a provider: she has a better understanding of her patient’s behaviors.
How much value is there in telling a nurse or a doctor that Tom and Sally are ePatients? Perhaps some. But ultimately, providers need to know the specific and relevant characteristics of their patients. A general label probably doesn’t help much.
I’m glad that there are movements like the ePatient movement to raise awareness of the need for empowering patients. Patient empowerment is vital to health care. Responsible providers understand this.
But if words become objects in themselves and result in a new filing system, then they lose their value. Healthcare Marketers need to understand this.
As I said earlier: Marketing not only has to be effective: it has to be respectable.
When it comes to healthcare communications and marketing, anything less than professionalism and excellence and clarity is Dreck. Not only is it Dreck, it can be harmful: the farther away healthcare communicators are from patients, the easier it is to lose sight of the impact of their messages.
Language matters – no less in health care. Usurping words just because they’re in style may have some effect but in the long-run, marketing and communications require innovation and creativity, clarity and honesty.
Too often, Marketers opt for what appears to be the easy road. But in a world where people can talk back and retweet and take snapshots of your work, going down the easy road may turn out to be a nightmare journey.
If you use fakery to get your message out, don’t be surprised if your message gets drowned out by the sound of your competitor’s fans who adore and respect the real patients who love their products and services.
Let’s hear your thoughts!
Note: upcoming post will be on the uPatient: the Unempowered Patient. We need to have that conversation: there are more unempowered than empowered people in the world.
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