This month, two seemingly disparate events converged: the Archives of Surgery released a special report on suicidal thought rates among surgeons, and I began reading Better, the 2008 book by Atul Gawande, a general surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, bestselling author and writer for The New Yorker.
The Archives special report shared the disturbing news that surgeons have suicidal thoughts more than twice as often as the general population. Gawande’s book, which is subtitled A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, adds insight to why this might be so.
We all know that medical professionals are under tremendous pressure to be impeccably competent and compassionate. However, as Gawande notes about medical training, “The knowledge to be mastered is both vast and incomplete.” In other words, there is always room for doubt. And when an error occurs — and thoughts of suicide were much higher among surgeons who had committed a major medical error within the past 12 months — that doubt can turn inward. Perfect storm conditions for a profession held to a standard of perfection.
What does this mean for you, the marketer? It means that the more you are able to supply surgeons with hard data and any means of reassurance that your device can fill a gap — an incompleteness — the more you are speaking to not just their minds, but their very core. Consider the requirements Gawande lays out for success in medicine — or any pursuit that involves risk and responsibility:
- Diligence, “the necessity of giving sufficient attention to detail to avoid error and prevail against obstacles.”
- To do it right. Gawande notes that because medicine is a human profession, it is subject to human failings, such as arrogance, insecurity and misunderstanding.
- Ingenuity — thinking anew. This is not a matter of superior intelligence but of superior character, writes Gawande, along openness to new solutions.
A superior marketing effort can answer to all three of these criteria. A scientific explanation of your device’s mechanism of action answers the first; sufficient outcomes data to prove it is a responsible choice for the patient addresses the second; and an honest claim of innovation—how yours is truly the better way—fulfills the third. All add reassurance to speak effectively to a seemingly confident surgeon—who, for perfectly human and understandable reasons, may not be feeling that confident.
Rob Kinslow is vice president for strategic communications at Seidler Bernstein. A journalist by training and former president of the American Medical Writers Assn. in Boston, Rob gently guides companies through the often byzantine world of brand and message strategy. His work has been recognized by the American Hospital Assn., AMWA, Diagnostic Marketing Assn., the Healthcare Information Awards, Rx Club and others. An avid magician and musician, he is also a former three-term president of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in Boston.