The Reputation Imperative: In Pharma We Trust?

One excuse for the lack of innovation within pharma is that it suffers from a bad reputation which inhibits trust among ‘gatekeeping’ stakeholders.

 Trust has a close relationship to reputation, which is understandably difficult to measure; however, each year the Reputation Institute (a management consultancy) publish league tables of who the public view as reputable - so how did pharma do?

I imagine you’re thinking ‘badly’ – as did our Chairman, Paul Simms, who estimated 1 or 2…… well actually, it’s 8. That’s pretty impressive from an industry formed of huge corporations who, in most regions, aren’t able to advertise their product to consumers (patients); it’s even more impressive when you consider than in 2011 only one pharma company made it into the top 100 (J&J). Amazingly, 2 years later J&J is now considered more reputable than Giorgio Armani and Nike, and Bayer, Abbott, and BMS beat PepsiCo!

I believe this shows that, whilst in its early stages, the industry shift towards patient centricity is beginning to work. Continued progression in the collection and presentation of real world evidence (to determine whether treatments work in the real world) will only strengthen matters in the years to come. The corporate landscape is changing, banks and financial institutions have their faces in the mud (arguably deflecting attention away from pharma – the GSK scandal in China made the front page of just one newspaper in the UK), energy companies behave like cartels, and consumer good companies prey on the impressionable. Pharma need to ride this wave of positive sentiment and use it to form stronger relationships with stakeholders, to engrain themselves within the care process.

As economic stagnation continues in the developed world, governments will tighten their squeeze on healthcare which will, of course, be passed down to pharma - as it has been for years. Rather than sitting back, I suggest pharma strives towards becoming a ‘care partner’, and proves themselves indispensable by negotiating deals with existing care providers that enable them to proactively improve patient care, and the patient experience. 

The first issue to tackle would be adherence (which has been discussed for decades), partly because regulators have kept pharma out of the loop and forced already overstretched care institutions toshoulder the responsibility. This is a flawed strategy as they do not have the resources (financial or human), and it is also unfair considering payors what to pay for outcomes, not products. If you don’t let pharma be part of the treatment then how can you justify not paying for the product if it doesn’t work (it isn’t always the products fault) – by doing this you’re removing accountability from other stakeholders. Risk sharing agreements will only go so far, and fundamentally break down based on this principal.

Whilst this initiative will obviously cost money to begin with, there is no other stakeholder with the finances or the inclination to drive this forward – it has to be pharma, and from a business perspective this is ideal. There will be compliance issues, but if overcome it will improve the speed and quality of care, improve outcomes (more resources means you can create a more bespoke care pathway), map out stakeholder needs, and ultimately reduce the amount of money governments need to funnel into healthcare. From a pharma perspective this initiative can be profitable as they will have more control over a patient’s treatment pathway, so can ensure everything is done to help them – hence improving outcomes, and the amount they receive for their product. Pharma will also be able to take on more risk in risk sharing agreements because of their increased involvement in the process….. win–win–win.

It is now fair to say that pharma’s poor reputation is a dated view, and moving forward companies need to take the next step in their reputation journey to leverage future strategies and investments which encourage a shift into a 21st century business model.

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