Managing patient distrust in Pharma: How can we tackle outdated industry insights?

by | Mar 17, 2022 | Public Relations

The past few years have shone an unprecedented spotlight on the pharmaceutical industry. The sector has played a key role in improving health outcomes for billions and has had one of the most transformative effects on modern medicine in recent centuries. Yet the industry’s overall reputation remains a challenge, and the pandemic has not shielded pharma, full time, from patient criticism.

Research shows the pandemic has had an odd effect on the sector’s reputation, according to the latest industry report by Caliber

The ingenuity, responsibility, and leadership displayed by some organisations during the COVID crisis has been widely noted in the press, and firms that were looked upon more favorably before coronavirus have received increased public approval. Yet those with lower trust scores have faced a spate of further criticism.

The pharmaceutical and biotechnology index has in fact been dubbed the second-worst performer of 40 industrial sectors within the FTSE350 over the past year, and COVID-19 has also highlighted a gap between what patients expect and what the sector can deliver at speed. There is still, for instance, a wealth of misunderstanding when it comes to what pharma companies do and the complexities behind their day-to-day activities. This is especially true in relation to drug development, and the time, expense, and legal frameworks involved in these processes.

Whilst the pandemic has provided a fantastic opportunity for pharma to redefine what it stands for, a host of issues, therefore, remain, because too few companies are brave enough to tackle these reputation challenges head-on. The resultant policy of engaging with the media only when necessary has left a chasm to be filled by less informed, third-party voices, who may not have the industry’s best interests at heart.

Public discussions relating to potentially life-changing developments and scientific discoveries are regrettably rare, with the obvious exception of the coronavirus vaccines. In some cases, perceptions of the same company also vary greatly because consumers are being left to make their own minds up about these firms.

With trust voted the second most important factor for consumer engagement, firms need to start relaying a defined, clearly relatable, purpose, if they want to shift the reputational dial.

All of this starts with a well-defined communications strategy

Even amid strict regulatory controls and reporting guidelines, pharma companies can and should be, getting more creative with their media messaging and marketing. From disease awareness campaigns to charity partnerships, positive corporate news, and business profiling, there is a wealth of ethical and transparent ways to develop more positive patient relationships.

Indeed, the public paying more attention to drug development than perhaps ever before, and the pandemic has provided a fantastic opportunity for pharma to redefine what it stands for. There is an opportunity to use this pandemic momentum for good, to talk directly to patient and healthcare audiences, and tell Pharma’s side of the story—but only if firms are bold enough to take on the challenge.

Neil McLeod
Neil McLeod is Director of Strategic Communications at The PHA Group.