Where are the Pharma Reps on Grey’s Anatomy?

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By Sven Larsen (@svenplarsen)

Watching Peter Diamandis recent talk on a “world of abundance” and reading my colleague Jason Brandt’s thoughts on how news organizations affect the public’s perceptions of Pharma (and everything else) got me thinking about media in general.

A couple of years back, I commented to a firefighter friend of mine how much I was enjoying the show “Rescue Me”. I was very surprised to hear that he didn’t care for it at all. When I pressed him further he cited the numerous factual inaccuracies that took place in each episode. He could accept artistic license and the fact that the show required more action than everyday life. But it was the technical details that really hung him up. He explained how the show was influencing public perception and actually making his job harder (since civilians had unrealistic expectations regarding the equipment and methodology his unit used). Luckily, most of us will never have to deal with the kind of life or death situations he was talking about and as a result, the “reality distortion” effect caused by the show would have little impact on our lives.

But most of us deal with doctors many times throughout the year. And medical shows outnumber firefighter shows by about 50 to 1 on TV. So aren’t we all constantly experiencing a similar “reality distortion” problem when it comes to our healthcare.

Most people (especially P & P readers) know that shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House” aren’t docudramas. But wouldn’t it be great if they injected a little more reality in to their weekly battles with disease and death? I’m not picturing compelling scenes of physician’s filing claim forms with insurance companies. But how about a scene where one of House’s staffers treats a patient with a drug they’ve learned about from a Pharma rep or a CME session. Or an uninsured patient receiving free samples of the drug they need from a doctor who’s received them for a Pharma company (heck, even have the guy explain about patient assistance programs). Too often we see someone given a dramatic diagnosis like cancer and then presented with chemo or radiation therapy as the treatment. Imagine if someone was to talk about the numerous patient support groups out there or the ground breaking research being done by Pharma companies everyday. Instead, we’re left with a few platitudes and the idea that any patient care for serious illnesses is the sole domain of the hospital.

How do we lobby for changes like this to occur? Really the only option Pharma companies have is voting with their dollars, mentioning to the TV channels ad sales teams that we would like to some depictions of the important role that Pharma can play in patient care. It’s a strategy that may or may not work.

In the meantime though, we can take advantage of the “third screen” trend, the fact that many people are integrating their laptop, tablet or smartphone with their television watching experience. It’s a terrific opportunity for consumer education at the moments when the public is most receptive to this info. Someone is diagnosed with MS on “private Practice”? Why not use the show’s hashtag to tweet a link to an MS education site or patient community? Viewers riveted by reality shows like “Life in the ER”. Why not partner with TLC to provide an overview of the tools and treatments used on the show’s website (networks are always looking for this kind of added value content). The possibilities are almost limitless.

For years, Apple computer has made a point of having their products featured in film and television shows. It’s an implicit acknowledge of the power that mass media has to shape public perceptions. Let’s take a page from the playbook of the world’s most successful marketing company and turn media into an ally in changing the way consumers perceive our industry. Digital and transmedia give us all the tools we need to do so.

Now for the big question. How do we get Gigi Peterkin that guest starring role opposite Patrick Dempsey?

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One Response to Where are the Pharma Reps on Grey’s Anatomy?

  1. Sven, how is it that I’m just seeing this? So…has anyone answered the question yet?! My bags are packed. 😉