How Pharma Can Restore its Reputation?
Let’s face it. Pharma’s reputation is declining over the years. It has been a steep fall from the heights of public esteem it once enjoyed. Overcoming its poor image and rebuilding the reputation are the greatest challenges that the industry is now facing. Consider the number of negative perceptions that millions of people across the globe have about pharmaceutical industry:
- The real innovation is done outside of Pharma labs
- The industry hides any negative clinical trial data
- The industry pays off doctors to prescribe drugs
- The research-based Pharma industry delays generic entry by paying off its generic rivals
- The industry promotes its drugs illegally and unethically in conditions that are not approved for their use.
Patient Groups’ Perception
In a survey recently published in PatientView Quarterly on patient attitudes towards healthcare industry covering drug and device making, paying and delivery process Pharma ranked near bottom – seventh out of eight categories. Furthermore, Alexandra Wyke of PatientView wrote an article recently in Pharmaphorum that the overall reputation of the pharmaceutical industry has been declining over the years, mostly because companies failed to do the following things according to an overview provided in a recent report on Pharma’s reputation based on the views of 600 patient groups.
- Manage any adverse news about their products
- Adopt ethical marketing practices; and cultivate a positive-enough relationship with the media
- A lack of fair pricing policies leading to unseemly profits
- Lack of integrity in its activities
To change these negative perceptions pharmaceutical industry must immediately improve their engagement with patient groups and act in a transparent manner.
- Companies need to avoid being overly product-focused in their relationship with patient groups and to have a robust patient-centered strategy
- Companies need to embrace patient groups in any crisis management that they may have to undertake
- Companies need to be more accessible to patient group partners
What Can Pharma Do?
John LaMattina, a global pharmaceutical industry veteran in his book, Devalued and Distrusted: Can the Pharma Industry Restore its Broken Image suggests a few ideas:
- Transparency of payments to healthcare professionals. Doctors are justifiably paid for services to Pharma industry such as advising on clinical trials, leading and discussing clinical trials. The industry should publish all the details of payments it made to physicians. The Physician Payments Sunshine Act now makes it mandatory in the US.
- Transparency of clinical data. The industry is often accused of hiding negative data. The industry now posts all clinical trials it is conducting on a government website, www.clinicaltrials.gov The industry needs to conform to the expectation that all results must be entered within 30 months of the last patient completing the study.
- Stop the illegal detailing of drugs. There is nothing more depressing for an advocate of pharmaceutical industry to read about than yet another multibillion dollar fine being levied against a manufacturer for trying to sell a drug for an indication that is not approved.
- Drop the TV Ads. The companies are allowed to advertise their drugs in accordance with FDA guidelines. But the ads do more harm than good. The litany of side effects that must be discussed is numbing and probably doesn’t provide a sense of the true risk-benefit for that medication. Furthermore the public views these ads to be a waste of funds that could otherwise be invested in R&D or in lessening the drug cost.
Image Makeover by Deeds and Not Words
Pharmaceutical industry must immediately take corrective steps to restore its reputation by its deeds and not mere words or creative publicity and advertising campaigns. It must act transparently in all matters concerned with patients’ interests and outcomes and its marketing activities. Pharmaceutical industry, which has contributed significantly in improving healthcare by discovery and development of a number of new drugs many of which are life saving should not find itself in a defensive state once again. It is the same industry that has to and will deliver even the future cures. Unfortunately, the industry has lost importance and significance as a major contributor in the minds of vast majority of patients due to the attacks on its credibility. It’s time to act right and correct its shortcomings and change this negative perception to restore and regain its reputation.
Embrace and engage. Embrace social media and engage with people by talking to them addressing their questions and concerns. Return On Investment is important but so is Return on Image.
Pharma should remember and live up to what George Wilhelm Merck, President, Merck Chemical Manufacturing Company said in his address to the Medical College of Virginia, Richmond, US in December 1950:
We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been.