Conflicting polls highlight uncertainty about public's opinion of pharma

The pharma industry's reputation has improved slightly this year according to one study, but another suggested it can better tell its story.

NEW YORK: Two recent polls paint a complicated picture of the public's opinion of the pharma industry after a year in which manufacturers were battered in the U.S. media over their pricing practices.

In the U.S. market, the industry faced a whirlwind of negative press in 2015, most of it stemming from backlash and criticism of Valeant Pharmaceuticals' and Turing Pharmaceuticals' price hikes on old drugs. But the Reputation Institute, a research and consultancy firm, found that the industry's reputation globally has improved in 2016.

The global poll gauged reputation on seven factors — products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, leadership, and performance — which add up to a composite score between 0 and 100.

Globally, the drug industry mustered a passing grade of 67.6 in 2016, a small but steady increase from 65.7 the year before. Kasper Ulf Nielsen, executive partner and cofounder of the Reputation Institute, described the score as "average and improving." The industry's reputation in the U.S., too, fared well, hitting 72.7, and generally on a steady upswing, he said.

Bayer was the top-ranked pharma company with Abbott, Novo Nordisk, Roche, and Merck rounding out the top five for 2016. Novartis, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Pfizer finished in the bottom three of all the 14 ranked manufacturers.

In order to take the Institute's poll, participants had to be familiar with the 14 pharma companies: Abbott, AbbVie, Allergan, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Roche, and Sanofi. The drugmakers were selected for their size, familiarity around the world, and companies that were thought to already have an "average" reputation. 

Another survey conducted by Edelman implies that trust in pharma is heading in the other direction, however. Trust in the pharma industry decreased in 16 countries — including the U.S. — according to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, which surveyed more than 33,000 people in 28 countries. Within the U.S. healthcare industry, participants rated pharma and biotech companies as the least-trusted subsectors of healthcare. Hospitals and consumer health companies, such as Procter & Gamble, were rated the most trustworthy.

The Institute's research suggests that the more people know about pharma, the more likely they are to trust it and in turn recommend their products, Nielsen explained, and that knowledge gap represents a clear opportunity for the industry to better tell its story.

To that end, the Reputation Institute asked participants how well drugmakers expressed their corporate brand in a number of categories and found significant room for improvement. Only 38% of those polled said that pharma companies communicate often; 46% said it provide a consistent experience; 40% said they supply sufficient information; 38% said manufacturers welcome an open discussion; and just 43% said drugmakers delivers on their promises.

This story originally appeared on Medical Marketing & Media.

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