Love and Other Problems

The new movie Love And Other Drugs, starring Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal tells the tale of a pharma salesman who meets the love of his life at a doctor’s office.  The highly-paid hero is portrayed as a vain, flirtatious pushy rep who will stop at nothing to get doctors to write more scripts for his drug.   Armed with gifts, flowers and free lunches, he pitches his marketing message from office-to-office.

Clearly neither he nor the producers ever heard of the PhRMA code, OIG or the myriad of other pharmaceutical compliance governance.

And while it succeeds as a feel-good, romantic comedy, SRxA’s Word on Health suspects that it did little to help the reputation of the much maligned pharmaceutical industry.

A further nail in the coffin has just been delivered by Vanity Fair. In the January edition of the magazine, investigative reporters Donald Barlett and James Steele have penned a scathing attack on pharmaceutical companies in an article entitled Deadly Medicine.  In it, they dub the industry a “lethal profit machine.”

Unlike the movie, it’s not pretty.

They conclude: In 2009, according to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, 19,551 people died in the United States as a direct result of the prescription drugs they took. That’s just the reported number. It’s decidedly low, because it is estimated that only about 10 percent of such deaths are reported. Conservatively, then, the annual American death toll from prescription drugs considered “safe” can be put at around 200,000. That is three times the number of people who die every year from diabetes, four times the number who die from kidney disease. Overall, deaths from F.D.A.-approved prescription drugs dwarf the number of people who die from street drugs such as cocaine and heroin. They dwarf the number who die every year in automobile accidents. And with more and more of its activities moving overseas, the industry’s behavior will become more impenetrable, and more dangerous, than ever.”

For pharmaceutical companies, that’s one tough pill to swallow!

So…How can we change the perception that the industry is despicable and dangerous?

And…how can pharmaceutical companies regain trust and provide real value in their conversations with physicians and patients?

First, all sides of the debate need to acknowledge a few simple facts:

  • Healthcare is a business – from the largest global pharma company to the smallest single doctor family practice.
  • The pharmaceutical industry is not alone in wanting to sell its products and generate profits.  That’s what all businesses do
  • Billions of dollars of these profits are reinvested in new drug development
  • On average only 1:50 new drugs make it to market
  • The average time to develop a new drug is 10 years and the cost around 1 billion dollars
  • Human beings influence and are influenced by numerous factors / people everyday – it is called life.
  • In order to control costs and treat patients effectively, everyone must work together.

Second, the relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and its critics needs to change. The current confrontational environment is a lose-lose situation. Pharmaceutical companies need to be perceived as bringing value to the healthcare equation and genuinely understanding what doctors and patients need.

Thirdly, and with apologies to Jake and 20th Century Fox, the industry needs to kill the stereotype of the “goody” toting pharma rep and reinvent the role as one of collaborator, consultant, and educator.

SRxA can help companies manage these relationships and inject real value back into the mix.  To find out more, please contact us.