New day rising? (Guest blog)

I imagine the approaching disclosure of payments to healthcare professionals is providing more than a little unease among senior pharma executives.

We’re less than six months away from the July deadline for EFPIA members to reveal any ‘transfers of value’ made to healthcare professionals (HCPs) during 2015, with gigabyte upon gigabyte of information being readied for release into the wild.

How the information will fare is, at this stage, up in the air. Even when one’s laundry is whiter than white, few people would relish having it put on display for all to poke their way through – and reason dictates that somewhere there’s going to be a juicy little fact that will make a great headline.

But, rather than running scared from what might hit the headlines, the industry would do well to focus on the action it is taking, and why.

It should rightly see this as a challenge, but view it as one that should be met head on with rewards on offer if it is handled in the right way.

The very fact of a pharmaceutical ‘industry’ can often be a difficult sell. In crass, simplistic terms pharma, by the very nature of the business, ‘profits from illness’.

Never mind that business has enabled amazing progress, exemplified in recent years by its efforts in treating cancer and hepatitis, to name just two. Never mind the very real desire of those working within pharma companies to keep doing more for patients. And never mind pharma’s work to help those without the resources to help themselves.

What the industry should mind is its lowly standing in the public eye. The annual Trust Barometer report from the PR firm Edelman placed pharma above only the financial sector – but only just. In any case, and a boast about not being the very lowest placed industry is no boast at all. But it does suggest pharma has little to lose by being more open.

Certainly, the countdown to revealing a pharma company’s European expenditure on everything from consultancy fees, congress attendance and travel payments does risk cementing the ideas of those that don’t understand the need for relationships between pharma and healthcare professionals, and confirming the sectors traditionally low levels of trust.

But, transparency has become an inexorable force. We expect access to the information we need, with medicine just one area where there’s been a sea-change, with what was once the preserve of doctors now available at the click of a mouse or the swipe of a screen.

Pharma companies have to do more keep up with this direction of travel. The Disclosure Code will mark a strong step down that path.

I would hope crisis communications plans have been drawn up to prepare for the worst, but I think the industry has good reason to hope for the best with this initiative. July may not see a brand new dawn for pharma, but in terms of its reputation, the only way is up.

Dominic Tyer

Dominic Tyer is a journalist and editor and has been writing about the pharma sector for over 16 years. He is PMGroup’s...
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