While in Las Vegas I received a voicemail from Stephen Heuser, a staff reporter at the Boston Globe. He was doing a story on an exhibit at the American Academy of Neurology meeting that "claimed it could create, in a perfectly healthy person, the disorienting symptoms of multiple sclerosis."
I called him back and we discussed what seemed to him to be a new technique employed by pharmaceutical companies to market to physicians.
Today, Heuser's article -- "MS drug makers try a new pitch: empathy" -- appeared in the Boston Globe. The article includes a few words of wisdom from moi. I'll have more to say on this topic later on Pharma Marketing Blog, but here are a few of my pearls quoted in the article:
"They're always looking for something new," said John Mack , publisher of Pharma Marketing News and author of a watchdog blog on drug company marketing excess. He was not at the Hynes this week, but is familiar with the heart-failure simulator. "Doctors are very gadget-oriented, and they like this sort of thing," Mack said. "It's also very medically oriented."
The marketing theory behind the simulator is that a more empathetic doctor is more likely to treat patients aggressively, which means prescribing more drugs. O'Leary said one survey showed that the strategy seems to work: Doctors emerged from the anemia simulator measurably more interested in treating patients' symptoms.
"The whole thing was not to push the drug, it was to push the importance of treating the disease," said O'Leary.
Mack, the marketing specialist, is skeptical. A cardiologist with a lot of experience treating congestive heart failure "probably knows all there is to know about being empathetic," he said.
He does, however, believe simulators and other high-tech educational tools can fill important gaps in medical education, even if they are funded by companies that stand to profit from increased drug sales.
"Obviously, pharma companies have a vested interest, but medical schools are just starting to teach doctors about bedside manner and having empathy for the patients," he said.