What Does A Pharmaceutical Marketer Do With “Empathy?”

For that matter, what the heck is “empathy” anyhow?  One of our clients got me thinking about this question when their advertising agency told them they would need to develop physician empathy for patients suffering from a condition that one of their products treats. You see, their marketing research had demonstrated that physicians didn’t think the condition was “so bad,” and felt that patients weren’t really “suffering” enough to require treatment. Is “developing empathy” a marketing strategy? A marketing tactic?”

Anytime I start to think about a new area of endeavor, one of the first things that I do is go to the Amazon book section and see what’s available. If a title or two looks interesting, I download them to my Kindle and dig in. My more frequent readers already know about this modus operandi.  

So once again, off I went to explore empathy.  Here is what I found. Quite a collection of very different books, eh? Guess what. I didn’t download any of them. None looked like it was spot on to answer my l questions about applicability to healthcare marketing. (Confession. I picked the one pictured above for a graphic because I liked its clean look!)

My second line of defense in exploring a new topic is Wikipedia. There, I actually found some useful information about empathy. For example, I found out that some psychologists divide empathy into:

  • Cognitive Empathy. Logically understanding how someone else feels.
  • Emotional Empathy. Actually feeling what someone else feels, vicariously.
  • Compassionate Empathy. Feeling compelled to help someone if help is required.  


Bottom Line. Although I am just starting to focus on empathy’s role in pharmaceutical marketing, I think I get it. For pharmaceutical marketers, developing physician empathy for patients does not involve getting them all sobby from empathizing with their patients’ travails. It does involve making sure that they understand the nature of their patients’ sufferings and how bothersome they are to the patients, and most importantly making  them want to help the patients in a “treatment area” that they otherwise might have ignored. 

Sharing statistics on symptoms and their severity, sharing testimonials about negative impact on quality of life, etc. are indeed tactics that could help to enhance physician empathy and raise prescribing to a more appropriate level.

Think about it!  


  • I did a search: “Can people develop empathy?”

    This is what the engine returned.

    It’s a worthy read.

    https ://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/threat-management/201303/i-dont-feel-your-pain-overcoming-roadblocks-empathy

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