pataphysics

Pharma and the pataphysics of social health

It’s easier to sharpen a pencil than it is to write a poem with it.

It’s easier to clean a musical instrument than it is to play a sonata on it.

It’s easier to talk about technology in healthcare than it is to integrate it effectively into activities that deliver improved outcomes for patients.

In 2012, we were seduced into inactivity by the contemplation of mHealth apps.

In 2013, our fickle gaze has been lured away by the technologies of the quantified self and the (literal) lens through which we view the data they collate.

In 2014, we will doubtless be reflecting on how such technologies as the Fuelband have been rapidly superseded by the evolution of the smartphone into a device that can measure your weight, pulse and blood sugar levels using onboard sensors.

It would seem that our insatiable appetite for taking about ‘the pursuit race of technology[...] around a track in the form of a Möbius strip, has only just begun’.

Objectively, we may classify such comfortably indeterminate discussions about a rolling near-future of health as the pataphysics of healthcare; an imaginary realm wherein we envisage our habitual retweeting, for example, somehow does something to improve health outcomes and within which we ‘continue to produce [content] in a sort of inescapable indifference’.

Collectively, we appear to enjoy seeing these extravagant acts of prestidigitation played out in front of us. Were this not the case, beyond the obvious benefits that disease-focused peer support and medical education confer, much of the healthcare conversation on the social web would already have ceased to exist due to the numbing boredom of repetition.

Perhaps part of the pleasure resides in pondering the paradox of how that which is unproductive in terms of health outcomes can be economically productive for the agency that produces it. It’s a harmless enough pastime, I suppose, if we overlook the squandering of the scarce resources that support it.

Whilst sectors of the health conversation still appear to have the leisure to ‘devote themselves more to the spectacle of thought than to thought itself’, pharma clearly is not one of them.

Revenue gaps caused by drugs going off patent are harder to close; margins are squeezed; budgets are under pressure; costs are closely managed; restructuring is everywhere.

No pharma company should look at its portfolio of social presences and think ‘job done’.

What job do they do?

Are they advancing the company’s key business objectives, or are they merely ‘accelerating in a void, because all the goals of liberation are already behind [them]‘?

If you don’t know where your destination is, it is likely that you are heading in the wrong direction.

Citations: Jean Baudrillard, The Transparency Of Evil (1990; London: Verso, 1993) pp. 48, 4, 57, 3-4.

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One thought on “Pharma and the pataphysics of social health

  1. tell me about it Andrew – not in a pharma setting for me but NHS & community coproduction service innovation. Everyone is still focused on the toy, the tool, the play thing. Two days this week I have felt the biting hand of community and multi-stakeholder engagement – it feels and is indeed very hard work. The technology is part of what we will end up with, not starting with the technology.

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