On the beat: healthcare

For much of the year, the healthcare issue dominated the presidential election and campaigns. Then Wall Street suffered its collapse and what was once a hot topic shifted to the backburner.

For much of the year, the healthcare issue dominated the presidential election and campaigns. Then Wall Street suffered its collapse and what was once a hot topic shifted to the backburner.

Still, there was lots of news.

The pharmaceutical industry came under fire for just about everything this year – marketing tactics, conflicts of interest with media and academia, its lack of presence in social media, and an ever-growing number of consumers who control their healthcare decisions based on Web research.

From these struggles came an understanding that the public needs to be better educated about the risks and benefits of drugs and devices. For example, Pfizer introduced an educational campaign to teach both the media and the public about the risks and benefits of its smoking cessation drug Chantix.

Big Pharma's woes aside, the FDA stole many of the headlines in 2008 – from the contaminated heparin batches from China to an ongoing investigation in the hiring process of a PR firm.

Tipping the scale
But what made 2008 unique was that it helped tip the scale for change in healthcare. The FDA opened its first office in China, and recognized it needs to fix its image with the public – regardless of the misguided way it went about hiring a preferred PR firm. No pharmaceutical company went through the year without saying “transparency.”

The same goes for biotech, consumer health, and insurers. The industry is well aware that changes are ahead, and despite the growing pains of the last year, it could be a good thing. Healthcare PR pros believe that this is the time for healthcare PR to shine, to restore the industry's image, and provide these information-seeking consumers with as much knowledge as possible.

Will total industry reformation happen in 2009? Probably not, but I'm excited to follow the successes and failures that will help this industry reinvent itself in the next five years.

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