Branding Rheumatology ?

I was looking at Twitter yesterday and saw a post that caught my attention.  I linked to a blog by a rheumatologist where he referenced rheumatology as a “poor brand.”  Having spent most of my working life in marketing, I found his comments interesting.  Yet, his closing question was the most intriguing.

He asked how to “enhance our brand”?

I never thought of rheumatology as a brand, but it is.  When you consider a consumer product (food, shoes, bedding, etc.), it’s easy to think of a thousand ways you can enhance the brand.  Yet, a medical specialty presents different challenges.

I learned soon after my diagnosis that most people do not have a clue what rheumatoid disease is.  When I mentioned I had RA, their replies were consistently “my knee gets stiff too”.  Even a personal trainer replied that age catches up with all of us.  Seriously?

When I first got sick I visited a clinic close to home.  The doctor had never seen me before, but I think he had a strong suspicion what was wrong.  After I got the diagnosis, I scheduled with my regular doctor who was across town because he had a 30 year history with me.  He kept holding my wrist and was quite shocked at how hot it felt. He commented several times about how hot it was.  I guess he didn’t realize I already knew how hot my wrist was.

A year later I was simply trying to put the puzzle together and asked this doctor about my dad.  As time had passed I could see myself in memories of my dad – unexplained illness and fatigue, how he walked, excessive stiffness and swelling and many other symptoms.  My doctor told me emphatically my dad did not have RA.  How did he know?  If he had never seen or felt of a wrist in flare, how would he know with someone else? Would he have asked the right questions or ordered the appropriate labs?  While my doctor did not tell me anything about the disease, he did schedule me with a rheumatologist and he found an explanation via a medical website and emailed it to me.

If rheumatology is a brand, the first step to strengthing this brand is education.  Yet, this education should not be limited to the medical community alone.  It should be a combination of education starting with the ‘first consultants’ in medical care – internists, general practitioners, even hospitalists and emergency physicians.  The education should continue with the general public.  Arthritis should not be routinely paired with aging, nor with a golfer and a specific drug.  Last, the education must also include the rheumatologist because while they are the experts in diagnosing and treating rheumatoid diseases, they should also understand that the patient holds critical information they should seek out and consider during each visit.  The patient should also understand the importance of the health assessment questionnaire as their input into the evaluation process – and – open communication between patient and rheumatologist will strengthen the partnership to ensure the best care possible.

In branding you must first identify perceptions – how do others understand rheumatology.  I believe we are seriously lacking in this area.  You must also identify the value of rheumatology to others.  This point is dependent on the internists and general practioners as they must understand the symptoms and recommend the specialist.  Then you roll up your sleeves and start working on reaching your audience through a website, educational programs, communication plans, developing white papers for reference and creating marketing/advertising essential to get the message across. You also establish strong relationships within the medical community and with patients, advocates and the public. It should be a partnership on all levels.

Rheumatoid diseases are complex and while there have been many advances in treatments, if the information does not get to the right people the patient has lost.  Hopefully, everyone in this community can work together, form strong partnerships and  make rheumatology a stronger brand.


* Special thanks to Dr. Irwin Lim whose blogs on “Simple Tasks & Bent Forks” and “Does it Matter that Rheumatology is a Poor Brand” inspired my topic today.



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