Logging In: Reform Candidate
Washington, health care, and common sense
I usually write, in these illustrious online sites and journals, my reflections on the broader worlds of interactive experiences and marketing. But sometimes there is an event in one of my specific areas of expertise - currently, online consumer health and the legislative battles around health care - that has lessons for us all.
Now is such a time.
It is great fun, and easy fishing, to poke fun at the morass that is our government. But it misses three essential points: 1) Most folks in this town really do want to do the right thing; 2) most folks in this town are under impossible, immediate pressure to react to emotional outbursts from nearly infinite constituencies and their representatives; and 3) the process can yield enormously influential unintended consequences.
Where things go wrong, usually, is at the premise level.
In the cacophony of the health care debate there has been a little-reported attack on pharmaceutical advertising, based on the premise that advertising is something of a bad thing. Consumers should not, the thinking goes, be part of what is fundamentally a medical professional's decision - and the outcome can be bad medicine, more costly health care, even lives at stake.
The emotion around this area of marketing sometimes causes people to lose sight of the many shared goals of everyone involved - lives are palpably and demonstrably better, for example, due to the innovation of pharma companies, and we all want to make sure consumers have fair and relatively safe access. But the debate loses track of several key points, including:
1) Singling out any one industry writ large in its ability to communicate its products - a common business necessity - is very funny territory. Shall we go after all food companies because overeating leads to obesity? Shall we go after all auto companies because some people are reckless drivers?
2) Singling out any one industry ignores the most fundamental change in audience behavior in generations: Millions of Americans go online today to research and talk about products and purchasing decisions, including pharmaceutical drugs. Why wouldn't users want to hear details on the product from the people who make it? Why, in the case of pharma marketing, which is already FDA reviewed, keep out or constrain the only voice in the conversation that is regulated?
3) The argument that consumers won't or shouldn't get involved in making decisions about their health is, first of all, moot - they are doing it and will do it forever - and kind of silly. Any parent whose child has add is a critical participant in treatment choices. Anyone who has wrestled with health issue knows that the solution can most likely be found in partnership with medical professionals. In the end, doctors make most clinical decisions, but we all should be as informed as we can about our health and our health care options.
Why does this matter to us all? Because in life generally, and in politics in particular, common sense isn't always that common. The power to understand the world in completely new ways and the power to engage consumers will end up in a sausage grinder of unintended consequences. Industry lobbyists and trade groups can't keep up with it as well as we, the experts on the ground, can. We owe it to ourselves to take this environment seriously, stay informed, stay alert, and be willing to join the conversation.