Pharmaceutical innovations in the past twenty years have contributed to declining cancer death rates, almost 90% cure rates for hepatitis C and premature death rates from HIV/AIDS dropping by 85%. Yet, trust in the pharmaceutical industry has hit a new low.
The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer showed a 13-point drop in consumer trust in the pharmaceutical industry going from 51% to 38%. This is the biggest drop in the five years the PR firm has been tracking sentiment. The score of 38% puts pharma in the “distrusted” industry category and made pharma the least trusted of the 15 industry sectors that Edelman studies. “We think what may have happened this year is that the backdrop over the uncertainty over the ACA, the opiod epidemic, pricing and the whole healthcare blame game that’s going on in terms of pricing and access, probably had an effect on the trust scores,” said Susan Isenberg, Global Health Chair at Edelman. Edelman’s report went on to say that the high cost of healthcare was being blamed on the pharmaceutical industry and that the majority of their respondents felt that pharma companies put profit ahead of patients.
What contributed to this decrease in trust in the pharmaceutical industry?
Stagnant Pharma Business Model
Continuing to steadily increase prices of existing drugs, pricing new drugs so high that many cannot access them through insurance plans and the billions currently spent on advertising and marketing is not working to build trust. Patients no longer have full coverage with nominal out-of-pocket costs for their health care coverage. They are seeing where their dollars are going with high deductible health plans and the easiest to understand and target are high prescription costs. Providers are prescribing based on insurance formulary and experiencing patient relationships that are more transient and lacking care continuity. Policymakers are moving from accepting free market pricing to regulated pricing based on outcomes.
A Faceless Industry
Pharmaceutical companies have little or no public identity. Their name is known only by by the packaging on the pill bottle or the injection they have been prescribed. There is no known back story to the drug development or even the leadership of the research or the company itself.
How can trust in the pharmaceutical industry be recovered?
Humanize Their Message
Pharmaceutical companies need to personalize outreach by telling the stories of the real people behind healthcare breakthroughs and the patients who benefit. Edelman’s Trust Barometer data show content provided by health companies is seen as credible. “This is a clear opportunity for health companies to leverage their own media channels and share their stories through interactive, creative content,” Isenberg says. “The industry can move toward trust by activating both their experts, a spokesperson group that is once again viewed as credible, and their employees, who can speak to company news in authentic and local voices. For example, humanizing what happens in the laboratory by showcasing the real scientists behind a breakthrough, or creating a campaign where patients are heard and can contribute rather than just feeling they are simply the target of promotions.”