Generation Cure: Why Tomorrow’s Generation Will Demand More From Healthcare Companies
Joe Becker is the Chief Integration Officer at Twelvenote.
In the 19th century, Edward Livingston Trudeau shared his sentiment for treating tuberculosis: “To cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always.” Often mistaken for being part of the Hippocratic oath, these words often dictate the current approach to healthcare. Despite being well-intentioned, I wonder if these words are aging well.
In the 19th century, the notion of cure was vague, elusive and perhaps unattainable in many regards. In the 200 years since this quote, there have been numerous innovations in healthcare—from advanced gene therapy to prescription digital therapeutics that have advanced the notion of what curative medicine means.
Something that can advance the pace of cure-targeted medicine is communications—specifically efforts that educate on the advancement of cure-based therapies and strategies to humanize brands through purposeful and scientific stories.
At Twelvenote, an earned marketing agency, we spend a lot of time counseling healthcare and wellness organizations with strategies that help to uncover the humanity of the company and elevate more purposeful programs to connect with patients, caregivers and doctors alike. We believe empathy can be an exceptional strategy for effective communications (and it certainly feels good, too).
One of the most pioneering of the cure-focused treatments is gene therapy, which is not about treating symptoms but rather changing genetic code to address the problem at a molecular level. Despite the fact that this important field still has more progress to make, it places tension on the cure-versus-care dichotomy. To that end, considering the pace of innovation, the idea of cure and even prevention is likely to be a reality for Gen Z, Gen Alpha and generations thereafter. Rare disease patients and families stand to gain the most from gene therapy because of their oftentimes long and hard journeys toward diagnosis.
At my agency, we track how the health and wellness brands we keep are often a reflection of our own empathy and morality. While tracking this trend for our annual report on the consumerization of healthcare, our analytics team decided to test a few hypotheses and conducted a proprietary deep-dive analysis of media, consumer and healthcare provider (HCP) online/social conversations around rare diseases. We found that the term “hope for cures’’ led all discussions on the topic. By a lot. This result is a little atypical in the category of pharma, where conversations are often on treatment and diagnosis. This finding highly indicates not just the strong demand for cure-based medicine but the increasing number of patients who see it as a viable possibility.
Enabling patients to even be aware that cures are possible is a job for the communications team. For the field to progress at the rate it needs to, communications and marketing need to be part of the solution by shifting public opinion toward the possibility of cure-based therapies. Raising the profile of cure also raises the profile of hope, shifting it from being a possibility to being something that’s here and now. This notion will enable the public to better understand how the science of cure works so that it may become more ubiquitous.
The key to doing this right is understanding that the conversation between healthcare companies and patients is a highly emotional exchange. Just about every other industry is a commercial exchange—mercantile sometimes. With healthcare, you might be buying a product (in the form of a treatment or procedure), but these are products that enable health and survival (and everything that goes with it). Therefore, I believe this marketing discipline requires a communications approach that is more human and empathic in order to truly be effective.
One of the biggest challenges with innovations in healthcare is making the public comfortable with new technology. This is where a more empathic approach to PR and communications really comes into play. One of the best ways to accelerate the development of new health tech, like cure-based treatments, is by establishing comfort among patients. This is best achieved when you address patients in the most human and empathic way possible.
One of the best examples of this concept coming to life is the work our team did with Bayer for Midol. For generations, women had been apologizing for their periods, a behavior they learned from older generations. Our team created a digital-first platform to educate women on this apology behavior and to empower the next generation of menstruators to behave differently. The work won many awards, but more importantly, the period apology dropped by nearly 25% while the brand experienced double-digit growth, indicating that empathic approaches are not only effective for driving positive change but also for driving equity for the brand.
I believe the greatest hope for pushing the advancement of cure-based healthcare lies in the empathic and human approaches to communications. The future of healthcare for my children and grandchildren will be much different than my experience, and that’s really amazing.