Should we tailor healthcare communications by patient gender?
This weekend, one of my housemates insisted I read the reviews for Veet for men on Amazon. How he came across these is something that I will never ask and am trying to block from my mind. After reading them (once I’d finished all the crying and hiccupping that embarrassingly for me come with being particularly amused) it really made me think about how differently men and women read and act on instructions and how this may impact on the way they take medicine.
With this in mind, I looked up a woman’s review for standard Veet (for those of you that have never heard of it, it’s a feminine hair removal cream which has seemingly now decided to tackle the “metrosexual” market). The review went pretty much as one would expect:
“It’s good, worked well, the first time I tried it I worried about leaving it on too long as it says 3-6 mins. It took slightly more than 3 mins for it to work and I was worried that I was too slow when taking it off but it was ok. Sometimes it didn’t take off all the hair but that may have been because i didnt leave it on long enough…”
So this lady had read the instructions, cautiously adhered to the guidelines and been worried that even by straying slightly from the recommendations, she may suffer the potential ill-effects highlighted.
The men’s reviews demonstrated an entirely different approach to following the instructions; I have sampled three reviews below:
“Being a loose cannon who does not play by the rules the first thing I did was ignore the warning and smear this all over my knob and bollocks. The bollocks I knew and loved are gone now. In their place is a maroon coloured bag of agony which sends stabs of pain up my body every time it grazes against my thigh or an article of clothing. I am suffering so that you don’t have to. Heed my lesson. DO NOT PUT ON KNOB AND BOLLOCKS.
(I am giving this product a 5 because despite the fact that I think my bollocks might fall off, they are now completely hairless.)”
“I like the clean shaven look down in my gentleman’s log cabin, so for the past few years I’ve used a shaver. However the hair keeps growing back which means every 6 months I have to spend 20 minutes trimming again. As I’m sure you’ve realise this is valuable time I cannot waste. So I decided to get to the root of the problem and purchased this product.
Probably the first thing you will notice after using this product is the pain. Although as a man I lack the required experience, I’m going to estimate that using this product is at least eleven times more painful than childbirth.
Imagine sticking a rusty razor blade into your favourite eye, before tying your hands behind your back. Then imagine that you use the entrenched razor blade to slice open a raw onion. All the while being butt naked. This product is slightly more painful than that.
However if we ignore the blinding, crippling and debilitating pain I should point out that this product is remarkably effective. Before, all manner of organisms great and small lived down there, now nothing can grow; not even on a cellular level. Sadly this includes my genitalia; I’ve spent the last four hours staring fixedly at Carol Vorderman’s arse, all to no avail. My tinkywinkleton hasn’t even so much as perked up, so if my review seems a bit harsh, it’s only because I wanted children.”
“Although I understood the part about ‘intimate use’ I could not find anything about this not being for nose or ear hair. I get fed up with constantly cutting myself whilst trying to cut my ear and nose hair with a pair of Kitchen Scissors, so I decided that this product would work for me. I rubbed it up into my nostrils and around the outside of my ears. Very soon the burn started and trust me it really makes your eyes water. Probably more that if it was on your knob or bollocks like the other reviewer did. If your eyes do water, make sure the product is not on your hands when you go to wipe your eyes as this product also removes eyelashes and eyebrows and makes your eyes water even more. I look like I have been put on a sunbed for too long and people keep asking me why I am crying. Still, a good product which does what it says”
The first two exhibited a flagrant disregard for the recommendations whilst the third’s interpretation of these was questionable to say the least.
What needed to be done in the instruction leaflet to avoid their gung-ho attitude towards “intimate use”? Should there be an Orwellian voice triggered on opening the pack that repeats “not for use on your knob and bollocks” (just to avoid any misinterpretation about “intimate use”) until the tube is safely replaced? Neon sign? Or would making the tone of the instructions different suffice?
We do currently consider typical patient types within each therapy area, ensuring that tactical plans take into account age, ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic status, concomitant conditions etc. but should we start adjusting language to compensate for a difference in gender-related interpretation. Could we improve compliance and correct self-administration of medicines by tailoring communications by gender (in non-gender specific therapy areas)? Judging from those reviews, tailored instructions may avoid any unpleasant surprises.