Are patients consumers?

Written by Silja on 9 February 2009 in epatients - No comments

I came across this very interesting article my Manny Hernandez from tudiabetes, an amazing online community for patients with diabetes, but more on that in another article later.

Manny is raising the important debate on labeling patients as consumers (Call me patient, not consumer), especially in the light of web 2.0 and social media. He personally is not comfortable with this label and for very good reasons.

I was very intrigued by the discussion and left a comment so long that I decided, I might as well make a post on my blog about it to see what people think about this from a pharma perspective. So here you go:

I suppose the difference between being a patient and being a consumer lies in the degree of choice you have.

Let’s say you are diabetic and you chose to consume special diabetic nutrients. Let’s also say you need no prescription for this and you will be paying for it yourself. In this case, I would say you are a consumer with diabetes.

On the other, let’s say you would like to use a “once a year insulin shot“ (ok, let me dream this up for a sec here ;-) to treat your diabetes, because you feel it will suit your lifestyle best. Well, while you will be able to influence this choice, it does not belong to you. You will have to ask your physician, you will have to check with your insurance, maybe you will even have to battle with your pharmacist to not get a replacement in the last minute… I guess, in this case you are the (and also have to be) patient ;-)

The pharma industry therefore likes to separate between customers and consumers. Physicians, other health care professionals, insurers, the FDA etc are their customers, because they decide which treatments the patient will have available for “consumption“. Once their treatment is available to patients as a “choice“, they will promote it (at least in the US) through direct-to-consumer marketing to patients, hoping this will in turn influence physican prescribing.

The enormous empowerment patients demonstrate today through informing themselves, lobbying the government and asking physicians for better treatments will offer more choices to them. And choice is good, but it also comes with responsibility.

It is a very fine line between providing more choices to people and protecting them from wrong choices at the same time. In the end, even though that “once a year insulin shot“ is really what you would like best, it might have side effects that could be dangerous for you or it might not control your diabetes correctly. So only your physician can tell you and should decide whether it is the right treatment for you.

Leave a Comment