Attend any pharma marketing  conference these days and most likely you will hear these buzzwords: “storytelling” and “patient journey.”

For example, at iPharma 2015, Brandon Graham, Chief Creative Officer, EUXmedia, talked about “storytelling” and the “patient journey” and how to effectively use video to follow a typical patient in their “journey” from pre-diagnosis through therapy (read more about that here).

I hate to tell you this, but the news media does a much better job following Graham’s advice than any pharma company I know. But media stories more often than not portray pharma as the villain, not the shinning knight that rides in to save the damsel in distress!

Take, for example, last night’s NBC Nightly News story about Lauren Baumann, a cancer patient who manages her chronic myeloid leukemia by taking Gleevec, a medicine developed by Novartis (after much pushing & shoving by cancer patient advocates — but that’s another story).

What’s her story? Why was it told on national TV? And what should have been done to prevent the story in the first place?

Lauren is a single, 30-year old mom of 9-year-old Aubrey. According to the story, she “has scrambled almost every month for the last four years looking for help to pay her medical bills. ‘It’s embarrassing,’ says Lauren. I do have a job; I do make money and I still have to call and beg.'”

The story continues:

“And that is why she is furious at the cost of Gleevec, which she must take for life to manage her chronic form of leukemia. The wholesale price has tripled since it came on the market in 2001, rising from $2,624 a month to $9,210.

Gleevec is now a nearly $5 billion-a-year drug for Novartis.

Dr. Peter Bach, director of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Center for Health Policy and Outcomes in New York, says Gleevec is one example of a cancer drug market that in his words is ‘utterly broken.'”

Also “utterly broken” are the hearts of viewers. OMG! Aubrey is SO cute! After seeing this story, I want to kill Novartis (in a Supreme Court kind of way, not literally).

That’s the story, which, BTW, has a happy ending for Lauren, but not for pharma (see below).

It was on TV because of recent criticisms by leading oncologists, such as Dr. Bach and others, regarding the price of oncology drugs (read, for example, “Keynote Speaker at ASCO Says Value of Cancer Drugs Dosen’t Justify the Cost“).

This is a story pharma probably wishes wasn’t told. And it didn’t have to be told.

At the end of the story — and in REACTION to the story — Novartis agreed to pay Lauren’s monthly co-pay (for a year at least). Notably, that part of the story did NOT make it in the online version cited above. That version ended with Novartis’s lame defense:

“Novartis says it invests its profits in research and points to clinical trials that have resulted in Gleevec being approved to treat five rare cancers.”

Still, I want to kill Novartis! Because it and other drug companies are so stupid, they cannot even follow their own advice about storytelling!

So, what’s my advice?

Drug companies should be more pro-active in finding patients like Ms. Baumann who cannot afford their medications and help them BEFORE it becomes big news on national TV. That means not selling the PILL, but a personalized “concierge” service to patients — especially those who are shelling out high co-pays for their drugs. Like an investment manager who asks about your income and long-term goals before investing your money, pharma needs to pro-actively determine the economic status of patients who take their prescribed medications and automatically enroll qualified patients in their much ballyhooed “patient assistance programs” (PAPs). There should people inside pharma whose job is to do this and to assist people through the process. That’s what I call “patient centricity,” which is only a buzzword today.

If Novartis was pro-active and discovered Lauren’s problem – and fixed it – before NBC News did, they could have told a much different story about Lauren and Aubrey. How their journey did NOT include selling their house and moving in with elderly grandma. How Lauren and Aubrey survived with dignity and thrived economically thanks to Novartis.

Instead, the industry continues to defend high prices using the same old argument – it supports research. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Nobody cares! That’s not a human interest story! There’s no Aubrey in that story!