Embracing choice helps cut through a crowded market

Rare diseases are increasingly in the sights of clinicians and the pharmaceutical industry. As scientists uncover the molecular and genetic causes of disease, a rush of new, targeted treatments follows. This is fueling a golden age. But with a plethora of new treatments comes decisions where before there were none. And that’s where the ‘paradox of choice’ appears.

Put simply the paradox is that people struggle to make a choice at all, when they feel overloaded with options. First identified in 2000, the paradox of choice, and its discovery in an experiment about jam choices, is brilliantly explained in this classic TED talk.

Tesco used the paradox of choice to strip back choice and fuel a commercial revival, but a pharma company with a new treatment isn’t Tesco. It can’t and shouldn’t limit the available choices, so what can be done to overcome a basic human fallibility?

Firstly the problem isn’t just about clinical decisions. The paradox of choice speaks to patient empowerment. Though greater patient involvement improves the quality of medical care received, influential clinician and author Dr Atul Gawande reports that patients commonly prefer others to make treatment decisions. In a study two-thirds of people said they’d want to choose their own treatment if they contracted cancer. But in those who actually had cancer, just 12% wanted to make treatment choices.

So clinicians may still be the key decision-makers for some time yet.

Guidelines and therapy sequencing are the long-term routes to guide decisions about new treatments, but data to support can take years. In the meantime clinicians and patients may revert to tried and tested options, missing out on potentially life-saving therapies.

What can be done? Aurora’s recommended approach is to embrace choice and make it less daunting. Show audiences the value of having therapeutic options.

Here are our top three tips:

  1. Act early to begin the process of communication and share the science on the horizon. This is a compliant route to build anticipation and give people as long as possible to adjust to new choices
  2. See the bigger picture, where could a new medicine fit in amongst existing options, and be honest. Your success relies on credible, consistent and clear messaging
  3. Remain agile, the market will change as competitors launch, succeed and fail. Especially in rare diseases, it means patients hopes can rise and be dashed – so sensitivity and thoughtfulness are important. Regular scenario planning will ensure your messaging is future-proof


So whether it’s jam today or cancer medicines tomorrow, there is much healthcare communications can do to harness the paradox of choice, and make the most of a potential bonanza of new therapeutic options.

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