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December 15, 2008

Disease and Drug Naming May Be Part of the Cure

Medical_Symbol.gifHow deep does naming go? Two new studies indicate that naming may be more important to medicine than we'll ever truly understand.

The Branding Strategy blog calls them "bundles of connotation and denotation" but recent research from McMaster University shows that people take names so seriously that it can affect their health.

The more impressive name you attach to a medical condition, it seems, the more people will look for medicines to cure it.

Tell somebody they have pityroasasis and they'll panic, even if it means they just have dandruff. People with chronic hyperhidrosis are more likely to buy drugs to cure the problem than people who just have excessive perspiration.

This study is released just as Katrina Karkazeis publishes a nuanced and difficult piece in The Lancet entitled "Naming the Problem: Disorders and Their Meanings." Katrina says that the "ways in which we identify medical conditions - togther with their permutations in labels, identities, or diagnoses attributed to (and sometimes embraced by) individuals thereafter - are freighted with meaning that is tied to a sense of self."

In other words, people are starting to say "I am a person, not a disorder" as we become, as a society, more and more attuned to the names of various afflictions, maladies and so forth. It's heavy reading but it's worth it.

Lightening up the naming helps us understand what's actually going wrong, as evidenced by the "Seven-In-Absentia" gene, which has become the new focus of a pancreatic cancer cure. This "whimsical naming" seems to lend an fragment of hope to the cure itself.

I have written before about how drug brand naming is becoming more patient friendly. I wonder if disease naming should go the same way?

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Posted by William Lozito at December 15, 2008 8:36 AM
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