Medical Communications: Blending Art and Science to Tell a Patient-Centered Story
Contributed by Pete Luongo, MD
People often ask me what’s an MD doing in medical communications. The answer is not a short one, but in general, I’ve always loved science and learning about how the human body functions, and I enjoy the opportunity to positively impact patient care, even indirectly, as a professional medical communicator and educator.
Almost as often, people ask me about how being an MD impacts my view on the development of medical communications. What’s it like to be the one creating educational content and other types of communications for physicians and other healthcare providers? What have I learned as a physician that impacts my approach to developing impactful and engaging communications designed to educate and potentially to change healthcare providers’ behaviors?
Patients are Unique
If you’ve read my previous blog, you won’t be surprised to hear the answer. We must recognize and appreciate the individuality of the patients we serve. Earlier in my career, I was involved in the direct delivery of patient care. And I learned very quickly through my training and my own experiences that I needed to understand the patients’ unique needs, wants, and current situations before I could determine a treatment plan that was appropriate for them. An important part of deciding on a treatment plan is a physician’s ability to understand the data associated with an intervention, most often a drug. I certainly wasn’t going to prescribe an agent that was less efficacious or less safe than another. That’s not logical. And, unfortunately, medicine doesn’t always follow a logical pattern. There was an old saying in medical school, patients don’t come to your office with A, B, C, or D stamped on their behind. Patients aren’t multiple choice questions. Context is crucial. You must understand patients and their experiences of having the disease being treated in order to choose the optimal treatment approach for them.
The Art of Medicine
That’s where the art of medicine comes in. Consider for a moment the treatment of major depressive disorder. There are many efficacious treatments available. But they have different side effect profiles, some of which are beneficial. Instead of choosing the most efficacious antidepressant based on the data, I would choose the antidepressant that is efficacious AND addresses an individual patient’s unique wants, needs, and current situation. For example, a physician might select an antidepressant that stimulates appetite in a patient who has lost his or her desire for food. This is the art of medicine. I’m not simply treating a disease, I’m treating a person.
The Art and Science of Medical Communications
Impactful medical communications are not simply data presentations. Context is crucial, and the individuality of a patient’s experience with a particular disease must be taken into account. Consider the example in the previous paragraph. Information about the unique way depression affects individual patients can be easily included in communications about the disease and relevant treatment options. If healthcare providers understand the needs of the individual for whom they are caring they will be empowered to make patient-centric decisions that lead to better outcomes. Like the practice of medicine, medical communication is an art AND a science. Data must be interpreted in the context of the individual patient and we, as communicators, have the wonderful opportunity to give healthcare providers the tools they need to practice the art of medicine.
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JB Ashtin is a medical communications company focused on translating science into actionable clinical practice. Our mission is to provide education that creates a more informed dialogue between HCPs and the patients they care for. We do this through creating learning experiences that make complex scientific information digestible and meaningful to the advancement of patient care.