Negative Perceptions about the Pharma Industry

If you worked in the Pharma industry in 2019 and you were asked about your job, you might have felt a little uncomfortable.  At that time, attitudes toward Pharma companies were at an all time low.  Around the same level as attitudes toward tobacco companies.  If they were asked to give one word that related to Pharma, people would say “greedy.”  It was thus not surprising that they had negative perceptions about the Pharma industry.

Then COVID happened.  The industry’s image transformed as it played a crucial role in developing vaccines. Working rapidly on lifesaving vaccines, Pharma led the way to pull us out of the crisis.  Positive sentiment toward Pharma doubled by the end of 2021, up to 62% according to a Harris Poll. The public was grateful.  Then as the carnage ended, public sentiment toward Pharma quickly dropped to pre-pandemic levels.  Once again, society viewed the industry through a negative lens.  This was not helped by news that companies that were making the vaccines were reaping huge profits.

Factors Affecting Negative Perceptions about Pharma

Should Pharma care?  Beyond feeling good about itself, the answer is unambiguously yes.  As public sentiment goes against Pharma, there are growing efforts to limit its sales and development of its medications.  This can affect the development of this sector of the economy.  Profitability and the development of new medications can be undermined.

How Can Pharma Combat Myths that Lead to Negative Perceptions

  1. Combat the belief that Pharma prioritizes profits over patients by highlighting the financial commitment to drug development.  The emphasis must be placed on the benefits that the Pharma industry brings to society.  Pharma companies like Pfizer should highlight the heroism of scientists working for the company.  Their research has long-term positive benefit to society.
  2. Counteract negative impressions developed about a few companies (like Purdue Pharma ) by emphasizing the positive behavior of the majority.
  3. Address concerns about Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) marketing by highlighting its benefits in changing public perceptions and promoting positive outcomes.  Companies should highlight their involvement in advocacy groups supporting patients and efforts to reduce stigma associated with specific conditions.
  4. Emphasize patient-centric communication, focusing on the needs of patients rather than brand promotion.   It is critical that Pharma makes the needs of patients paramount to everything else. For example, Matt Flesch, Sr., Manager, Communications at Lundbeck, says that “At the core of our strategy—of everything we do—is the question: How will this improve the lives of the patients we serve? We are constantly reminded of the importance of our work. It all comes down to our mission to improve patient lives.”
  5. Highlight Pharma’s commitment to improving patient lives and supporting patient education and advocacy groups.
  6. Reject fear based communication that drives usage of medication.  Patient communication must authentically be about hope rather than despair.  It should invest in projects that positively impact communities, like the work of Chiesi Pharmaceuticals’ with the “Painted Hospitals” project in Parma, Italy.

Chiesi sponsored this painting in the children’s section of the hospital.  It has no direct relevance to their business.  However, it can develop goodwill about Pharma and about their company specifically.

Delivering on Patient Centricity

Pharma companies often speak about “patient centricity”, meaning that the needs of patients must come first. However, the public can wonder if they are delivering on this promise.  They need to “walk the walk” in the application of the idea. To do this, they must demonstrate they they are “listening” to patient needs.  This will often involve research projects where patients are recruited to express how the condition affects their lives.  And how any treatment can help them to overcome health issues. It should be clear to the public that the primary goal of Pharma companies is to serve these needs.

The pharmaceutical industry can take pride in its significant contributions to the wellbeing of society. By collaborating with patients, we can collectively celebrate the substantial advancements made in the healthcare sector. This collaborative approach not only garnered respect and appreciation from society during the challenges of COVID but also has the potential for positive developments going forward. Moving forward, it is crucial for pharmaceutical companies to consistently take actions that foster public respect and contribute to the positive perception of the industry.