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How Healthcare Gets Sold To Patients, Courtesy of Omnicom

Meaking healthcare-communications sausageGiven the changes sweeping through healthcare these days, it's not surprising that companies in the industry might want to update their marketing strategies from time to time. Watching that particular sausage get made isn't always pretty, but it can be instructive.

Take, for instance, Thursday's announcement from PR giant Omnicom Group that its subsidiary Star Marketing is launching a "new breed of healthcare relationship marketing service" through a venture it calls Star Healthcare (PDF link). The Omnicom release itself is nearly impenetrable, which when you think about it should raise some doubts about the company's actual ability to communicate -- at least if it had any incentive to be upfront about what it's trying to accomplish here. Here, for instance, is how Omnicom describes the new service:

STAR Healthcare is uniquely structured to deliver integrated, personalized communications programs across specialist relationship marketing disciplines. This model supports the patient with appropriate communication throughout the entire patient journey from symptom recognition through the diagnosis and self management of their condition.
Fortunately, an Omnicom representative pointed me to a Star Healthcare writeup at the digital-marketing site ClickZ, which makes pretty clear that the venture mainly aims to help drug and healthcare companies market themselves to chronically ill patients at every stage of their "journey":
The idea is to help healthcare and pharmaceutical brands step into the role once played by medical professionals. At a time when patients are compelled to take a more active role in their treatment, STAR believes there is a place for corporate healthcare companies to help educate and partner with them....

The network format will prevent healthcare clients from having to hire multiple agencies in an effort to cover various touchpoints with chronically ill patients, said Kuzel.

On the marketing-communications front, of course, Star Healthcare looks mostly like an integration play, an attempt to set up this arm of Omnicom as a one-stop shop. But it's unintentionally revealing in other respects.

In particular, and even though it's ClickZ's phrase and not Omnicom's, there's something eerie about a pitch intended to make drug and device companies think they can "step into the role once played by medical professionals." Sure, patients should take a more active role in their own medical treatment -- but does anyone think that self-interested marketing messages from these companies is the best way of going about it? This is the sort of thinking that has, for instance, led many pharmaceutical concerns to push drugs for patients who may not need them, which in turn played a big role in creating the major drug-safety problem that industry is facing.

In addition, there's the fact that most patients probably wouldn't appreciate knowing that they're just cogs in the healthcare industry's marketing machine. Small wonder that Omnicom cloaks its intentions in meaningless buzzwords and carefully ginned-up marketing phrases.

Image via Flickr user David Blaine, CC 2.0

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