Category: Current Events

COVID and Mental Health

Check this out. You will find a fascinating piece concerning links between viruses, COVID-19 in particular, and mental health. Links? Yup! The really interesting part about these findings is that causality can go in both directions. Those with schizophrenia and mood disorders, for example, were found to suffer more severe cases of COVID-19 than patients without these comorbidities. AND. Going in the other direction, patients who have had COVID-19 or other severe infections have a significant increase in their risk of developing mental illnesses later in life.

Bottom Line. So what the heck is going on here? While understanding is incomplete, it would seem that inflammation might well be the bridge that bidirectionally links infections and mental illnesses. 

Stand back and look at that sentence for a minute and ponder the impact that demonstrating such physiological causality could have on psychiatrists and psychologists working with the “mentally” ill!!!

Day Job and Gay Job???

Here is another one of those interesting issues that I frankly have never thought much about. That is, how well or poorly does the biopharma industry deal with LGBTQ+ issues in comparison to other environments. 

Check this out. What you will see is a fascinating series of observations and recommendations on this topic. Overall, this piece notes, less than 50% of LGBTQ+ employees are “out” at their place of work. BUT. For our industry, the good news is that our companies are heavy in PhDs, MDs and other educated professionals, who tend to be more accepting of alternative lifestyles. AND. Our companies also tend to be located in or near big cities, with urbanites being more accepting of differences in sexual orientation than rurals.

Arguably, the bad news is that most biopharma companies do not have special programs or initiatives to reach out to LGBTQ+ consumers, although companies like GSK are beginning to move in this direction.

An important point is made in this article with the observation that not all of the letters in the LGBTQ+ acronym have the same issues. Transgender employees who transition while on the job, it is noted, require that other employees also transition. Translated, if the boss that used to use the men’s room suddenly transitions to using the ladies’ room, some eyebrows will likely furrow and tongues wag. 

Bottom Line. At the end of the day, the executives interviewed for this article were largely unanimous in recommending that members of the LGBTQ+ community speak their “own truth” in the workplace setting. Backing down on issues related to sexual orientation is likely to be deleterious to both the employee and to the gay community at large.

Moreover, HIV/AIDS is not the only market where members of the LGBTQ+ community constitute a significant, and significantly different, market segment. Product managers need to decide if their product offers special benefits to this community, and target and tailor their promotional messages accordingly.

All interesting issues. How does your company rate? What should it be doing differently as we move into 2022???

This is Really Pathetic!!!

Check this out. What you will find is an article reporting that female physicians, on average, make $2 Million less than their male counterparts do over the course of their careers. Sure, their work/life balance might favor the home front somewhat more than the guys, but $2 Million worth??? And this study is adjusted for hours worked!!!

And, just to round out the pathos, recall the studies I have posted here previously, that found that women actually tend to be better doctors then men. More compassionate, greater attention to detail.  My last two concierge internists have been females, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Bottom Line. Beyond the inherent injustice of pay inequity, the author goes on to point out that all of this sends a very troubling message to women considering a career in medicine. And this, my friends, is the last thing we need in an era where good doctors, in fact, any doctors, are hard to come by!!!

Starbucks, DC Physicians, and COVID-19

As you all know, I have been carefully studying various approaches to convincing people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. My monthly conversations with physicians in my On Doctors’ MindsSM research project have been revealing that for many doctors, continuing to try to convince their unvaccinated patients to get the shot is now seen as a waste of their time and potentially offensive to some patients.  SO. They have stopped.

Conversations with clergy reveal that while some are willing to make a case from the pulpit for vaccination because they believe it is the moral thing to do, others want to stay clear of the political overtones that have unfortunately come to accompany this issue.

Joe Biden’s attempts, ranging from daily entreaties to controversial mandates, have at this point become old news, court cases, or both.

But here is a new one. Physicians offering to run discussion groups at coffee shops to present the efficacy and safety of the vaccines to groups of people who are not even their patients.  Interesting. Will the casual setting and the cup of Starbucks help to seal the deal? 

Bottom Line. Think about this one for a minute. If we have learned anything about the vaccine-hesitant over the last year, it is that simply talking “science” is unlikely to convince them to get their shots. And that’s true whether the people talking science are scientific experts or even their own physicians.  Why would these physicians, well-intentioned though they might be, be more successful using the same approach?

But wait! There actually is a possibility of a good outcome here. Think about it for another minute. Those people who would be willing to show up for such discussions must have at least a modicum of openness to getting vaccinated. AND. In good old “peer influence group” fashion, a skilled moderator might be able to facilitate these people talking each other into getting vaccinated by exploring and overcoming their shared objections. That might work.

As long as these doctors are smart enough not to just “talk science!!!” 

GSK’s Sick Pay “Micro-Grants”

Just when I think I have seen every form of healthcare inequity, along comes another one. And sometimes, just sometimes, a potential way to minimize the inequity’s impact comes along with it. Check this out.

What you will see is a report that 64% of working people admit to having clocked into their places of business while sick. Why? Primarily a desire to avoid losing a day’s pay. AND. Workers of color are more likely to engage in such behavior than Caucasian women. Why? In many cases, that day’s pay is more important to their families’ budgets.

Enter GSK, manufacturers of Theraflu. In order to fight both the underlying behavior and the inherent inequity, they will be offering 1,000 parent-patients, especially LatinX and Black mothers, “microgrants” of $150 to permit them to stay home when ill. 

Bottom Line. While I admire the creativity of this program, I scratch my head concerning its practicality. How much effort will need to be expended by the patient, and by the grantor, to apply for each grant, assure that the application is legitimate and issue the check? Will funds be received by the patients in time to meet the requirements of their weekly budgets? And what will the impact be on widespread inequity in sick pay of only 1,000 such grants? 

In brief, there seems to be a big problem here. Likely, a bigger solution than this is needed!

Digital Health and Cultural Appropriateness

Check this out. I am going to offer you a choice today. You can either take away one very simple but important thought, set forth in the “Bottom Line” below, or you can spend almost an hour of your time watching the video you will be sent to via today’s URL. Be a sport and watch the video. I am sure that you will find it to be worthwhile.

Frankly, this one caught me by surprise. An absolute “DUH! Why didn’t I realize that?” experience. The panel discussion presented here centers around attaining three realizations. First, it is well recognized that in our race to eliminate inequity in healthcare, it is extremely important to have minority patients treated by practitioners who are “culturally sensitive” to their subgroup. Second, it is often impossible to have practitioners with the right language skills, cultural orientation, etc. available on site everywhere to meet this requirement. Third and finally, telehealth can be used to manage this challenge by providing access to “diverse providers,” and doing so efficiently. 

Put all of this together and you have a great opportunity going hand in hand with an interesting challenge. The opportunity lies in being able to culturally “match” providers and patients. If a Black female patient wants to be treated by a Black female physician, that can be made to happen via telehealth. The challenge lies in figuring out what organization is going to set up the system that is going to make this all happen.

Spend an hour of your time listening to this panel discussion, and you might start to get an idea as to how all of this might work. 

Bottom Line. A potentially significant application of telehealth is the ability to provide patients with access to culturally “diverse providers,” thus permitting better practitioner/patient interaction and better healthcare outcomes.

What role should the pharmaceutical industry play in making this happen???

Toward Health Equity in Cervical Cancer Screening

We have talked before about the two different approaches to health equity. One is the “top down” approach, which tries to reduce inequities in all of healthcare. In order to accomplish this, an awful lot of prejudices with deep historical roots need to be eliminated. 

Alternately, we have explored a “bottom-up” approach, where specific sponsors, often pharmaceutical companies, institute specific communications programs in treatment areas of interest to them. Check this out. Here you will see another such program, this one aimed at increasing cervical cancer awareness among women of color. As with the other similar programs we have talked about, available data indicate that minorities are at special risk of cervical cancer, with this as usual being the result of lack of access and follow-up. 

Several things of note in this program. One is that rather than using often seen scare tactics, this program entices women to enjoy “Cerving Confidence,” emphasizing that cervical cancer is preventable. Smart!!!

Additionally, you will note that this program got huge media exposure, and active chatter on the social media as well. All good!!!

Last but not least, the program was evaluated against a control group, with a 10-point “lift” in likelihood of suggesting cervical cancer screening to a friend or relative seen in those exposed to the PSA.    

Bottom Line. Yup. The more I read about these “bottom-up” programs, the more I am impressed with them. True, they aren’t eliminating endemic racism in healthcare. BUT. If they can get immediate and positive health outcomes like this one did, I’m thinking they are still an important avenue toward health equity.

BTW, the timing is clearly right for this lift, since the article reports that during height of the pandemic, screening for cervical cancer fell by 84%. 

Good work!!!

Rethinking Your Commute in The Post-Pandemic Era

Check this out. What you will see are the findings of one of several studies that have demonstrated that commuting time stunts productivity. A couple more specific findings help to flesh this out. In terms of actionability, perhaps the most important learning is that even small reductions in commuting time can make a significant positive difference in productivity. In terms of importance, perhaps the most neck snapping finding is that the negative impact of commuting time is most profound on your most valuable employee assets. 

As a result, we see forward-thinking corporations investing in employee-rentable properties proximal to their work sites.

Bottom Line. And here is the real kicker. Much of this research was done pre-pandemic. One is left to ponder the impact of commuting time on a workforce that has become accustomed to working from home. AND. Since employees typically evaluate their own situations by comparing them with others, what will be the psychological impact of some employees being forced to return to their offices full time while others are placed into a “hybrid” model and still others are allowed to continue to WFH?

I am guessing that 2022 will be an interesting time to watch all of this shake out. Like so many others, I am betting that employee expectations concerning work setting and commutation will never be the same again.

Think about it!

Things You Might, or Might Not, Guess About Medical Malpractice in 2021

Check this out. What you will see are the findings of Medscape’s surveying more than 4300 physicians in nine specialties concerning their experiences with, and attitudes toward, medical malpractice. Why do I think we should care about this? Simple! Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to speak with many physicians about their experiences with medical malpractice. What I have heard from these doctors, our customers, is that being sued is an experience that has a profound effect on the physician defendant, often for a protracted period of time and not infrequently forever. Trust me. When a doctor is in the throes of a malpractice suit, we are going to have a real challenge in gaining her time and attention for our “important” drug promotion communications.

Every one of the pages contained in this report is of interest, but some really stood out for me. For example, on page 2 we see that slightly over half of the doctors surveyed had been named in a malpractice suit at some point in their careers, typically in concert with other defendants. Scrolling forward to page 3 reveals (you probably would have guessed this one!) that lawsuits are significantly more likely for specialists than they are for PCPs. Page 5 also deals with common sense, in that it points out that surgeons are the most likely targets of litigation. Brief and impersonal interactions with patients, complicated procedures and high expectations (especially for plastic surgeons!) combine to lead to this outcome. Page 13 is really scary and at least to me, somewhat surprising. There we learn that two-thirds of malpractice cases take longer than a year to resolve. In some cases, much longer! Doctors left in suspense for way too long!

And, surprise! Although many pundits, including me, predicted that the COVID pandemic would lead to a raft of malpractice cases, e.g. “failure to diagnose,” NONE of the doctors surveyed reported having a suit filed for a “COVID related allegation,” and 87% of doctors reported no concerns about such legal action.

Bottom Line. Just as they always do, this Medscape study provides important backstory insights as to what is going on in the minds of our physician customers. Read the whole thing. It will only take you a few minutes. Then contemplate what these findings might mean to the mental health of our physician customers.

That might take a little longer!

Mergers, Acquisitions, and COVID-19

Although I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, here is an angle that I had missed. Take six minutes of your time to watch this video by research industry pundit Bob Lederer. What you will learn is that as 2021 comes to an end, the pandemic is causing a significant amount of M&A activity. Established, well-funded marketing research stalwarts and venture capitalists are taking this opportunity to buy up, at discount prices, smaller organizations that were more negatively impacted by the pandemic. Interestingly, while many of these smaller organizations now lack the capital to expand or in some cases even to survive, many of them have technical expertise that can be used to turbocharge their larger counterparts.

Bottom Line. Which, as usual, got me to thinking. And wondering more generally what impact the pandemic has had, and is having, on the structures of other lines of business. Common sense tells me that, as in marketing research, the pandemic has provided well-capitalized organizations in many verticals with an opportunity to buy up weaker competitors at discount prices. 

Is that phenomenon over or, as Bob seems to be intimating in this piece, is it just beginning???