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1. Why the Plucky Patient?

And how it can help the life science industry think differently about their relationships with patients

I was originally going to title my inaugural post “Chester and the $5 Bully Stick”, a nod to my mini–Australian Shephard’s pugnacious and headstrong attitude toward giving up the last remnants of his favorite, albeit disgusting, treat. For those unfamiliar, the American Kennel Club describes bully sticks as a “single-ingredient, easily-digestible chew treat made from beef muscle”, a somewhat sanitized description of what they really are—dried bull penises. And dogs LOVE them. They come in varying lengths, typically 12-18 inches, although once chewed down to an inch or two, they can be easily swallowed and present a potential choking hazard.

Chester the plucky puppy won't give up his bully stick
"Don't even think about it!"

Unfortunately, trying to wrest away that last piece from Chester is like trying to squeeze water from a stone. He is relentless and unstoppable in his quest to enjoy every last bit. Not surprisingly, bully sticks are his primary target whenever he gets dropped off at the local doggie daycare The Bark Bark Club which includes a retail store that sells them. On one particular occasion, he made a such a strident b-line toward them that he nearly knocked me off my feet. The cashier mused how determined he was in his pursuit to which I replied, “Yes, he can certainly be a plucky puppy!”. The Internet is full of memes and videos of plucky pooches which, if you came here from my home page, saw defined as “having or showing determined courage in the face of difficulties”. There’s the video of the spunky dachshund carrying the stick that’s twice his weight and three times his length, or the French bulldog puppy fearlessly reclaiming his bed from a feline intruder, and of course, Dexter the amputee Brittany spaniel that learned to walk like a human and who gets thank-you letters from people with breast cancer motivated by his tenacity. Hence, it’s understandable that a synonym for words like tenacious, persistent, determined, and plucky is…dogged.

We draw inspiration from such stories. So, it’s no surprise that the life science industry spends a lot of time, energy, and money trying to capture and promote a triumphant representation of the people who use their products. In fact, I would surmise there is no other industry that invests as many resources as pharma and biotech in defining and capitalizing on the indominable human spirit for overcoming adversity—well, except for possibly the people who produce those always poignant, never-in-the-least-bit-schmaltzy, Olympics’ personal narratives.

The life science industry feeds us depictions of people who face challenges head-on and respond with grit, grace, and gusto. They are relentless. Unstoppable and UnstoppaBOLD. They make a stand against their biological adversaries. They take control. They can DO hard. And they are even… a FEARLESS…ULTIMATE…FIGHTER. Of course, there have been times when the industry has had to reign in their portrayals of the formidable patient archetypes under criticism that they were unrealistic representations of what their products could actually achieve. Such was the case in the early 2000’s when critics and the FDA protested the athletic bodies and chiseled faces of supposed men with HIV who were typically featured in ads for medications that treated the disease…or as Salon magazine put it “The ‘Joe Camel’ ads of AIDS”.

I think that’s what I like about “plucky”. It’s a word that engenders something that’s more realistic and obtainable. There are many patients who tenaciously battle disease but will always lack the confidence and energy to describe themselves as relentless, unstoppable or (ahem)…a FEARLESS…ULTIMATE…FIGHTER. But they may have enough resolve to see themselves as plucky. Further, the phrase has alliteration and is coupled with a whimsical, almost naughty, flamboyance that makes it fun to say.

“Damn right, I’m a plucky patient!”

And lastly and most importantly, the domain name was available.

So, who is The Very Plucky Blog for?

It’s for any individual who has a stakeholder role in the way the life science industry engages with patients and who want to nurture a stronger trust-based relationship with them. It’s for pharma and biotech—their marketing and brand teams, medical affairs, research, clinical, legal, and regulatory divisions. It’s for the companies that support pharma and biotech—the marketing agencies, medical communications groups, CROs, and those that provide commercial services such as access, financial support, and nurse educator teams. It’s for payors—both commercial and public—especially those folks who work in member services, onboarding, and patient education and wellness programs. It's for patient advocacy organizations who are seeking new ways to connect with current and future patients, members, and donors. And it’s for the policy makers who define the rules for how life science companies can interact with patients.

I’ll explore a lot of issues and ideas relevant to this audience including such topics such as:

  • patient centricity, or more importantly, relationship centricity

  • communication and engagement styles that build strong trust bonds

  • the ethics related to how the life science industry communicates with patients as well as the ethical dilemmas clinician employees face

  • perspectives on how and why patients manage the personal health information they’re willing to share with the life science industry

  • considerations for creating more equitable engagements with underserved patient populations

  • the influence and impact of technology on patient encounters

  • leveraging behavioral science to create personalized experiences

  • and lots, lots more

Please be aware though, I will never claim to be as inspiring or as entertaining as Dexter the Brittany spaniel (Seriously, you need to watch the video or at least check out his Instagram page). However, I will strive to approach every topic with a balanced blend of theory and real-world practice along with a little humor and pop-culture thrown in. In short, my goal is to offer a charcuterie of commentary that’s sometimes thought provoking, sometimes informative, sometimes frustrating, and sometimes even a little bit cheeky.

Welcome! So, let’s go.


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