Rehab for Ruined Reputations?

pharma industryAfter 25+ years working in or for the pharmaceutical industry, I’m probably one of its greatest supporters. I’ve witnessed the impact that pharma R&D has on the lives of patients, the benefits that pharma supported education offers physicians and the global impact of the pharma industry on the economy.

Yet despite all the good it does, pharma has somehow ended up with a reputation that, to put it mildly, sucks. Rather than being hailed as responsible and innovative the public perception of the industry is more likely to be fat cat greed.

So how did pharma earn itself a place in the ‘damaged goods’ file?

According to a new survey pharma’s poor reputation  stems mainly from concerns over safety, pricing and transparency.

The global survey, conducted by Patient View, in November and December 2012, explored the views of 600 international, national, and regional patient groups on the corporate reputation of the pharma industry as a whole, and the top 29 companies in particular.

The results are in and they’re not good. The Pharma Industry’s reputation has taken a dive.

ReputationOnly 34% of those surveyed said that multinational drugmakers had an ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ reputation last year- compared with 42% in the 2011 survey.

The survey also asked patient groups – many of which receive financial backing from the pharmaceutical industry – to rank drugmakers on six indicators that influence corporate reputation: patient-centeredness; patient information; patient safety; useful products; transparency; and integrity.

Overall when comparing 2012 with 2011, the industry’s reputation suffered the most in the following areas:

  • managing bad news about drugs (29% decrease)
  • having ethical marketing practices (23% decrease)
  • having a good relationship with the media (19% decrease)

Other factors cited for the poor performance: a continuing failure to help patients in cash-strapped countries gain access to medicines; a preoccupation with drugs that offer short-term health benefits and not enough effort made to discover new drugs for neglected groups of patients.

Patient groups also pointed to inappropriate and off-label marketing; a perceived lack of transparency, especially when it comes to reporting disappointing trial results; and giving the impression that profits come before patient well being.

What else?

pharma money13% said that the industry does not provide high quality patient information; 11% believe that no drugmaker has a good patient safety while 9% think that the industry does not provide useful products.

Brand-name drugmakers, ranked poorly compared with other players in the healthcare sector. Patient groups graded retail pharmacists, medical device makers, generics companies and even “for-profit” health insurers, as having ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ reputations. Only non-profit health insurers fared worse.

Can the industry turn itself around? We sure hope so.

Stakeholders, especially those who receive money from the industry, should respect pharmaceutical companies as corporate citizens.  At the same time, Pharma needs to recognize that they have a  key opportunity to demonstrate leadership by addressing the growing problem of chronic disease. Policy-makers, health care providers and patients will all benefit if the industry plays a more prominent role in helping to better manage chronic disease and partner with the public health community in promoting disease prevention.

And Pharma needs to tackle the price complaints head on, rather than shying away.  Whatever happens with healthcare reforms, politics or the economy, affordability and pricing will remain perennial reputational challenges for the industry. Period. We are all consumers at heart. Consumers, looking for bargains. And while I don’t support price cuts, I would advocate greater transparency around drug pricing. Pharma could both help themselves and make a meaningful impact by educating policy-makers and the public on the cost of medicines and by demonstrating how medicines decrease health care costs overall.

Managing reputation by meeting stakeholders’ myriad expectations for pharmaceutical companies is more than merely ‘doing the right thing.’

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