Confidence in life science companies has fluctuated since the start of the pandemic. The reputation of COVID-19 vaccine makers understandably soared early on, as clinical trials were launched and completed in record time, giving hope to millions of people in lockdown.
Since then, inconsistent messaging around the need for boosters, as well as side effects – rare as they are – have tarnished their name. Similarly, confidence in the health sector as a whole is currently 2 percentage points below January 2020 levels and well below (11 percentage points) May 2021 levels. A survey assesses the percentage of people doing trust in the pharmaceutical industry in 2021 at just 50% in the UK and Canada, with the corresponding percentage in the US being even lower at 47%. India currently has the highest trust percentage at 80%.
As discussed in a previous article, COVID-19 has polarized the population when it comes to evidence-based medicine and public health. The latest Edelman Trust Barometer report indicates that, among those who are fully vaccinated, the most trusted source of vaccine information is their doctor. Among those unvaccinated by choice, Internet searches ranked as the number one source. There are also differences in trust based on socio-economic and demographic factors and even political affiliations. Above all, women tend to be more suspicious of pharmaceutical companies.
Interestingly, the same report found that trust is a positive determinant of good health behaviors (e.g., participating in vaccination and preventive medicine), highlighting the importance of trust in the pharmaceutical industry and health care. health.
Transparency: the key to increasing trust?
While it is clear that current levels of trust in life sciences and healthcare companies are suboptimal, exactly how to improve public trust is unclear. Improving health literacy is one piece of the puzzle. Another major element is transparency. Lack of information, changing health recommendations, and conflicting expert advice all contribute to public distrust and, therefore, poorer health outcomes. What if, instead of pretending we have all the answers, we were honest and upfront about the fact that we don’t, and instead work with patients to help them find the information they seek?
Of course, we also have to consider where (from whom) the information comes from. Doctors, pharmacists and other health experts are more trusted than life science CEOs, government leaders and journalists. Among healthcare institutions, academic medical research institutions are the most trusted. For the pharmaceutical industry, this means that building authentic relationships with trusted and accessible doctors, pharmacists, nurses and academics should be a top priority. In addition to traditional Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), Digital Opinion Leaders (DOLs) – an emerging group of stakeholders with whom the pharmaceutical industry can engage – are well placed to share scientific data with the General public.
Pharma teams should work directly with KOLs and DOLs, as well as patients and caregivers, to design videos, websites, materials and educational campaigns for the public to get the right messages across. When events occur that could erode public trust (the current opioid crisis comes immediately to mind here), be open and honest with your advisers and get their advice on how to respond to negative press in a transparent and sincere.
Pharma must care about more than profits
A telling finding from the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer is that around two-thirds of respondents consider it moderately or very/extremely important for healthcare companies to engage in social issues such as pollution control. , poverty and income inequality, climate change, the high cost of nutritious food and racial injustice.
Pharma teams should choose a few issues to focus on, rather than trying to “fix” everything at once. Pick something that relates to your brand(s) or team. Working on a diabetes drug? Combine this with a program to improve access to nutritious foods. Want to fight poverty and income inequality? Look at how the price and access of your medicines impact certain demographics, then work from there. Do you work in the respiratory field? Create public messages about how climate change and pollution can worsen respiratory conditions, then create a program to address these issues.
While earning the public’s trust shouldn’t be the primary motivation for using your influence and funds for a good cause, it’s certainly an attractive side effect. As with all other messages, transparency and sincerity will go a long way. Most people can see through empty promises; they want hard numbers to back up what you say. To ensure that your programs, messages and actions align with your customers’ values, involve them directly in co-creating the program or solicit their feedback through online surveys and advice.
Call to Action for Life Science Teams
To build trust, life science companies and teams must strive to publicly address societal issues that contribute to disparities in health outcomes. Take a public stand and create programs or support movements working for climate justice, income equality and diversity.
It is also essential to build trust at all levels and throughout the health ecosystem. Work with well-known health experts to get the message across globally and nationally; engage valued local health care providers to disseminate information regionally. Make sure information is accessible to people of all ages, in all geographies, and with varying levels of technology proficiency. Consider potential language barriers by making documents available in multiple languages. Include people who are visually impaired, color blind, deaf or hard of hearing in the review process to ensure accessibility.
It really comes down to transparency, authenticity, and a willingness to learn from those affected.
About the Author
Natalie Yeadon is CEO and co-founder of Impetus Digital, where she helps life science customers virtualize their meetings and events and create authentic relationships with their customers.