Earning the Public Trust—and Keeping It - Pharmaceutical Executive


Earning the Public Trust—and Keeping It
The industry needs credibility with consumers to make a spoonful of risk go down. So how does pharma speak to the top concerns?

Pharmaceutical Executive

Among middle-aged and older consumers, where medication use increases, skepticism about FDA's credibility is even more entrenched. This isn't surprising since the more prescription medications one takes, the greater the chances are that one will experience a negative side effect. But the aging Baby Boomer/AARP generation tends to be a savvy and medically aware group, so their collective attitude toward both pharma and FDA is extremely important. Information and credibility matter a great deal to these consumers, and if they don't feel they are getting what they want, they are fully capable of voicing their displeasure in ways that can seriously impact a pharmaceutical company's bottom line.

The public's concern about side effects, coupled with its ambivalence toward FDA, is particularly significant when it comes to potentially lifesaving drugs that may have serious or potentially dangerous side effects. Should FDA deny approval of such a drug to keep it from the public? Again, public opinion is divided. It stands to reason that those with a good deal of trust in FDA are likely to support its decision whether or not to make such a potent drug available or not. However, while 54 percent polled said they would take such a drug if necessary, or recommend that a loved one do so, 46 percent said they would not take such a medication, even if it were approved by FDA.

Remember that when asked whether pharmaceutical companies should be able to sell a beneficial drug with potentially serious side effects, the public resoundingly answered yes, demonstrating a much higher level of trust in pharma than in the government's regulatory process. Though public trust in the pharmaceutical industry isn't as high as it could be, the fact that the industry has a larger share of hearts and minds than its government overseers indicates that the public already believes the industry is in a leadership position on these issues.

Patients Want Transparency

In view of these findings, it's clear that an opportunity exists for industry to assume an even greater leadership role in addressing public concerns over drug side effects—and in the process gain more of the public's precious trust.

For starters, greater public trust in the pharmaceutical business can be secured by improving industry efforts to inform people about the side effects and dangers of prescription drugs. Transparency and openness are crucial to this effort. People want new drugs, but if they don't feel adequately informed about the risks, and bad things do happen, they feel duped. And once the public's trust has been violated, it is exponentially more difficult to regain.

Pharma companies should also give serious consideration to their relationship with FDA—and how the public perceives that relationship. Our research consistently shows that the more people know about the process of bringing lifesaving drugs to market—from R&D and clinical trials to the relationship between drug companies, doctors, and patients—the more comfortable they are with the risks involved in developing medicines and treatments. Where the public is concerned, information and trust go hand-in hand.

Margaret Mueller, PhD, is a senior analyst at Leo J. Shapiro & Associates. She can be reached at


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