Once More, With Feeling: Science vs. Emotion

Pharma has long mastered incorporating emotion into building brands with patients and consumers, but with doctors, we’ve lagged far behind. It’s science, science, science! They want to see the data. They are left brain thinkers. But without an emotional connection, can we really build brands, or are we just peddling products?

A few categories have successfully begun to pull on doctors’ heart strings. Oncologists more than any specialty, are trained to turn off their emotional receptors in part, to make good decisions, but more importantly to help them cope with the day to day realization that they can’t save most of their patients. Marketers are showing these doctors what even a few more months can mean to a terminal patient through emotionally charged examples. Knowing you can do something good in a dire situation probably brings some sense of comfort, right?

Why the heart is gaining on the head
Now more than ever, with the medical field changing at lightning speed, the market may become ripe for more emotional approaches. ACA, ACOs and technology are driving a new approach to practice—one in which patient satisfaction, empathy and ratings are becoming critical factors and measurements of success. The science will always be necessary as proof for point of entry, but it may no longer be the only driving factor.

  • Realizing that behavior change doesn’t happen overnight, hospitals are trying to adopt more patient-centric cultures with patient experience research and HCP training in areas such as social skills.
  • Little touches like addressing patients by name or sitting down when speaking with them are now considered important.
  • Thought leaders in this area are stressing the importance of redefining relationships and creating partnerships with patients and their families.
  • Custom programs are being designed that set patients up for success by taking into account their personal circumstances.
  • And of course, technology is helping patients not only to be more informed, but to take part in their own care.

A new generation of doctors who care
It’s not just hospitals and practices hearing the message. Medical schools are recruiting for more diverse student populations, where people skills have become an important criteria. Programs are taking a more patient-centered approach to care, where future doctors are taught to consider life situations and patient preferences in addition to the physical signs and symptoms. Students are interacting with patients as early as their first year, rather than just spending time in the cadaver lab.

In this new environment where patients are people and not just a case number, HCPs may place greater importance on factors beyond just efficacy when it comes to treatment choice. Isn’t it time we reflect more of this in our communications?


VP, Strategic Planning

Fascinated by what makes people tick. Rider of horses, pretty much 24/7. Weakness for all things sweet… especially chocolate.