Your ‘patient engagement strategy’ is embarrassing

“Boiling the ocean.”

“Drilling down.”

“Thinking outside the box.”

It’s time to add a new phrase to the list of things you should never say for fear of embarrassing yourself.

“Patient engagement strategy.”

In the autumn, STweM will be offering some of our most popular services under a new name, and whilst all of these are focused on connecting communities, you’ll never find us describing them as ‘patient engagement strategies’.


Because whether you’re considering each word individually or the phrase overall, it simply isn’t fit for purpose.


To talk of ‘the patient’ is antithetical to everything that participatory medicine is doing. Objectifying the person as ‘the patient’ takes you farther away from each individual’s needs, setting you apart from what is relevant and useful to the person-as-a-patient rather than bringing you closer together.

‘Focusing on the patient,’ being ‘patient-centric’, or whatever other handwave you use in your promotional material in an attempt to signify your earnestness simply isn’t enough — for the patient, or for you as a pharmaceutical company, service provider, or clinician.

Think about the needs of other stakeholders. Think about your own needs. Think about how these impact on the experiences of patients when they interact with you.

Beyond emotional, psychological, and mental well-being, underserved patient needs seldom begin with, reside in, or belong wholly to the patient.

Actual sick people (ASPs) cope as well as they can, and stay as well as possible (AWAP).

They do their bit. It’s everything else that screws up.

Don’t use a phrase that may lead a patient to assume that you don’t understand that.


One of Hugh MacLeod‘s most enduring observations is “if you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face“.

Endless humble brags about your modestly presumptuous ‘patient engagement strategy’ punch patients in the face every time you use those three words.

If they land a haymaker on you some day soon, don’t be surprised or indignant.

You’ll have richly deserved it.


Are you sitting in an overstuffed leather armchair in your eyrie, steepling your fingers, and raising an eyebrow sardonically?

Then congratulations! You are a Bond villain. Strategise away.

However, if you work in healthcare and want to make a difference, you’re more likely to have a simple plan of open and inclusive assessment, design, implementation, revision and reiteration.

At least I hope you do. If you don’t, you know what to do.

Anyway, call it whatever you want.

Just don’t call it a strategy.

It makes you sound like you’re omniscient and infallible, with everyone else merely a pawn in your game, bending to your immutable will.

So please, go ahead.

Tell me about your ‘patient engagement strategy’.

Just don’t expect me or anyone else to take you seriously afterwards.

2 thoughts on “Your ‘patient engagement strategy’ is embarrassing

  1. Thank you Andrew for telling it like it is. Would that the buzz-word devotees would/could see it as patients – ASP – do. Our words are: coping, managing, trying, getting through, crying out, struggling. We’re more than ‘engaged’: we’re married to our health and ill-health.

  2. Pingback: Your ‘patient engagement strategy’ is embarrassing | Pharma Strategic

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