An agency I work with recently engaged me to develop a white paper for one of their clients, a provider of a certain type of health care services (I am not at liberty to disclose the type of services nor the therapeutic area the client operates in). The agency account team had prepared a preliminary outline that included the phrase, “health care production.” That phrase had me scratching my head; I’d never heard nor seen it before.

During the project kickoff teleconference, I asked the team what the phrase meant, and they replied that their client contact had used it to describe how some high-volume clinics must process a large number of patients both coming in and going out the door. Apparently, the phrase arose from a sort of stream-of-consciousness monologue in which the client voiced his vision for the white paper, and the account team dutifully wrote it all down.

I responded that I was extremely uncomfortable using the word “production” in the context of patient visits to a clinic. I told the team that it was an extremely dehumanizing word, and that we should come up with something that was more sensitive to the patient perspective. Fortunately, the team agreed, and I’ve thus far managed to avoid using the word “production” in the initial draft of the white paper, which is still in progress.

Frankly, I am astonished that a high-level executive in a health care services company would use the word “production” in the context of patient management, especially in this day and age, when the concept of “patient-centricity” has taken such a strong hold throughout the industry. If I were a patient visiting a doctor’s office or clinic for treatment, I would be extremely offended if someone described that venue as a “health care production environment,” as the agency’s client did. Such phrasing implies that the company regards patients not as human beings, but as production inputs and outputs. Perhaps the client had no intention of using the word “production” in a written piece, even if it was solely meant for an internal audience, but the fact that he even uttered the word is troubling to me.

The use of the word “production” in the outline underscores another issue I’ve been thinking about lately: the apparent lack of wisdom among agency personnel. Many of the agency people I deal with today are very bright, and some have impressive-sounding titles, but many of them are very young: I’m talking 20s and 30s. I know I must sound like an old fart, but I find that many younger people — even the really smart ones — may not have the wisdom or imagination to push back against clients that say and do questionable things. As I’ve observed before in this space, that’s not really their fault; we can’t expect younger people to be so wise and imaginative (I surely wasn’t when I was that age!). It’s up to us older folk to teach our younger colleagues, and to strive to keep our colleagues and clients honest.