A Life Sciences Solution For Consumerism: Beer, Mustaches, & Tuna

Consumerism is a topic that you either get or you don’t.  Those who get it, get it right away.  I’d have more success speaking with a turnip about it than with those who don’t.

Consumerism is a catch-all phrase for a number of healthcare initiatives that more often than not are nothing more than polite country club discussion across all of the healthcare sectors.  Without recasting consumerism, population health management and accountable care will be ineffective.  Without consumerism, complying with the Affordable Care Act and boosting Star ratings will be very difficult.

I spoke recently about implementing consumerism with the president of one of the largest life sciences firms, the president of one of the national pharmacy chains, a EVP of one of the three largest payers, and with several senior provider executives.  The conversations are all the same–either they do not even know where to start, or they started without knowing what they are doing.

The two biggest questions people have of healthcare to make consumerism work are knowing, “Who am I?” And “How am I?”

If you do not know who I am and how I am you cannot offer me care that is accountable and you cannot manage my health.

Warren Beatty stared in the movie, Heaven Can Wait.  Beatty played the role of a professional football quarterback who died in a car accident and was reincarnated as the CEO of a large conglomerate.  The business was in a lot of trouble because of the shady way it conducted itself.  The business owned a tuna company.  It kept its costs low by scooping up whatever happened to be swimming past its nets.  It caught a lot of tuna, and a lot of Dolphins.  The Dolphins died just like the tuna, and the company received a lot of bad press from killing Flipper.

During a board meeting, Beatty’s character announced that the company had to find a way to catch tuna without killing any more Dolphins.  He told the board, “We are going to be the good-guy tuna company.”

Life sciences, the small molecule people, are the furthest removed from patients. That is just the nature of their business. Even so, that is no excuse for not having a consumerism program.  Currently, life sciences’s entire approach to consumerism is to run television adds entreating people to tell their doctors to prescribe a particular medication.  Ten seconds of young, smiling healthy people follow by twenty seconds of a pleasant sounding person warning viewers that the product could cause everything from the death of their dog to hair loss to suicide.  That approach doesn’t leave many people feeling warm and fuzzy.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Life sciences could be the good-guy tuna company.  All that is needed is a strong executive and a vision.  Permit me to share one such vision with you.

As many of you know, I had a heart attack thirteen years ago.  As a result, I take the usual medications for heart disease.  I don’t know which firms produce them, and none of those firms know who I am.  I visit my cardiologist once a year, and I work very hard to ensure that I do not have to visit him more often.  It seems like there could be a better way to manage that aspect of my health. Somebody makes my meds.  Blue Cross pays for my meds.  CVS dispenses my meds. And, Penn Medicine prescribes my meds.  

The circle of life.  It is a closed loop. Every organization does their part.  And none of those organizations has a clue about my health.

I watched a TED Talk yesterday about an Australian, who while drinking beer with his mates one November evening, pondered that fact that while their are many social groups to combat women’s health issues, that there were no groups combating diseases that affect men.  And so, he started a group to combat prostate cancer.  

His goal initial goal was simple.  In the first decade of this century, he got guys to grow 1970s-style mustaches to signal their of awareness of prostate cancer.  Buy the end of its first year, four hundred and fifty hirsute Aussies had grown mustaches.  In Australia, a mustache is referred to as a “Mo,” and as a result he called his group “Mo”vember which is a portmanteau of “mo” and November.

Then he decided that the group should raise money to help improve the screening and treatment of prostate cancer.  He asked the executives of the major life sciences firms to support his group, but none of them did.  Fosters, the Australian beer company was the only firm to back the group.  To date, he and his mustached friends have raised over several hundred million dollars, and Movember is global.

Guys, beer, and upper lip hair have become a powerful force for wellness.  Ideas do not have to be complicated to be effective.  After all, some guy just started a company selling untucked shirts–I am willing to bet that there was a lot of beer involved somewhere in their launch process.

Health sciences firms can do more to improve care and to drive wellness than simply running feel-good commercials.  So, knowing that millions of people want to be healthy and to stay healthy, what if a life sciences firm or a payer or CVS did the following?  What if a firm created the Facebook version of health–“Healthbook”™?

Think about it.  Facebook has been moderately successful.  Half of the world’s population already knows how to interact with a Facebook-like social media platform.  Although there are hundreds of social media sites for a variety of illnesses, they are a bunch of trees looking for a forest.  Be the forest.  Decide to be the good-guy tuna company of your industry.  Design and build Healthbook™.  Give it a remarkable user interface that delivers a remarkable user experience.  Let patients and healthy people connect with each other about what works and what doesn’t.  Make it something they want to go to to manage their care and their wellness.

Do this and all of a sudden millions of people start to think that some big pharma company is using its size and capital to do more that simply running Stepford Wives commercials.  Payers, instead of being viewed as the death-stars of healthcare, could be seen as doing something other than denying claims.

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