Having worked in the pharmaceutical industry for a while now as a communications consultant, I have seen – like many others – how often the major players seem to get themselves into trouble with the general public. Sometimes this happens through no fault of their own, other times due to things they have done which literally cause my head to bang quite painfully on my desk in exasperation.
The cartoon above is probably quite a good illustration of how the industry is perceived by large swathes of the general public; quite frankly with good reason. Hardly a day goes by without some fresh scandal or negative piece of media coverage that reinforces that perception, and serves to undermine the immense good that the industry has and continues to do for the world population in general.
I have been following the #hcsmeu group on Twitter for a while now, and three contributors have recently posted on this topic:
@PedroLuisGS: To gain trust, pharma companies should change their business concept: drugs are not an endpoint but a path to regain wellness
@andrewspong: Pharma’s rep[utation] is in tatters. After all the conv[ersation]s about trust, how about championing the patient’s needs to ameliorate the former?
@navatanee: The image of pharma is as bad as the one of tobacco or financial industry. No innovation, just marketing. TRUST??
These tweets all make excellent points. In any holistic healthcare system, a prescription medication given to treat a particular illness is not the final step in the management algorithm, and current ‘push’ marketing strategies employed by pharmaceutical companies can very easily serve to erode public trust. Championing patient needs is clearly a great idea, but based on the current view of Pharma, if they were to start doing this would anyone really not question their motives? As much as I agree with all three comments, I think they all miss the point:
For me, there is one simple step Pharma could take immediately that would go a long way to start rebuilding the ‘trust’ that has been lost, and simultaneously help it to avoid the holes it regularly falls into from a communications standpoint:
Okay, so this may come across as a bit heartless, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is true. Governments can’t (and probably would not) invest the billions of dollars it takes to develop a single new drug to market (it they could, malaria/TB would have been cured long ago), so it falls to Pharma and its shareholders to risk their own money in the hope of a decent return. If they did not do this, then there would be no drugs. So why all of the guilt?
For me, the real failure of communication from Pharma has been to come clean and talk about their business model with the public. Start a proper, grown-up conversation with doctors and patients about how the whole healthcare system can be improved.
More, better drugs = better outcomes for patients = more profit for Pharma = more, better drugs, and so on…
Open and transparent conversation (i.e. via social media, rather than one-way advertising) between Pharma, doctors and patients = better selection of/adherence to/trust in treatment = better outcomes = well, you get the picture…
In this new, internet-enabled age, everyone has the power to effect change in how things are done. We can all make a real difference, as long as we cast off the dogma that has held us back in the past.
In the news today is the sad story of two teenagers who died in Scunthorpe this week, allegedly as a result of taking the ‘legal high’ mephedrone while out drinking with friends. Predictably, we now have calls for this drug to be banned – indeed, classified as a Class A drug alongside ecstacy and heroin.
I’ve blogged on the inherent stupidity of our current drug laws previously, so won’t go into it again (NB: just to make clear, the only mind-altering drug that I self-administer is ethanol, and in limited quantities at that). However, it’s worth making the point – mephedrone has been in use as a recreational drug for some time, across the world. In that time, apparently the number of deaths linked to its use is next to zero. Obviously, there will be side effects – particularly with high doses and/or long-term use – but this is evidently true for alcohol and smoking; I don’t see either of these being re-classified as Class A drugs any time soon, do you…?
A key point of all of this for me was that the teenagers in question were 18 and 19 years of age, i.e. adults. Nothing I’ve read suggests that they were forced to take mephedrone against their will, or that it was a tragic accident. In the end, it seems that they thought they could mess with their minds with no consequences, and were sadly proved wrong.
In the end, more effective education and open conversation will always have more impact than simply issuing a blanket ban. It’s the shame that banning things is so much easier…