Saturday, 19 November 2011

Success Story with a Dark Underbelly

The Dominion Post, our local paper, recently ran a story extolling the clever success of Kiwi company Atlantis Healthcare.  From a small company start-up in 1996, the company has become an international player, having moved into Europe and with big plans now to expand into the even-more lucrative US and Asian markets. How have they done this? By identifying and capitalizing on a unique niche service: getting people to take their medication.

From a business perspective, it sounds pretty good: recognize a need, tap into it, and get paid. What’s more, it’s a service they provide, not a product, so there’s no “stuff” to scoot around the world. But this is a success story with a dark, and I think distasteful, underbelly.

According to the DomPost article, Atlantis claims excellent results with 96 percent of breast cancer patients persisting with treatment after six months compared to 73 percent in a control group, and a 30 percent increase in medication adherence for asthma sufferers after six weeks. How do they do it? With phone calls, emails, personal visits, and advertorial material—cheap, easy, effective.

But think about this. It’s not about better health results, it’s about better treatment compliance. And they’re not necessarily the same thing. Rather than enforce patients’ (consumers’) drug compliance through harassment, how much better would it be if you and I as consumers were encouraged and empowered to make educated personal choices about the chemicals we put—or decline to put—into our bodies?

You might think that Atlantis would be serving the consumer, or perhaps the doctor, with their service, but it appears that the majority of their main clients are actually pharmaceutical companies. Recognized by Forbes as the 3rd most profitable business sector in 2009 (after communications and internet services), pharmaceutical companies have a vested interest in top returns to shareholders. Health, wellness, and an educated, empowered public are a threat to those returns.  The sicker you are, the more pills you (or your insurance company) buy, the more you can be coerced into complying with treatment and taking it long-term (regardless of whether it works for you), the better the profits for shareholders.

You see, it’s not really about your health, it’s about your money. And it’s this sort of money/profit mentality that the Wall Street (et al) protests are all about. Just in case you were wondering.

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