When the 'Dengvaxia' controversy erupted in Philippines, it was a reflection of declining public confidence in immunisation and a lack of trust on the pharmaceutical industry. Similarly, when families of patients take to legal recourse or go to the media to highlight a view on medical negligence, it is largely due to declining trust in medical profession and healthcare institutions.
There's been recent focus in APAC on the costs of medical delivery (across medicine, diagnosis and healthcare interventions) by policymakers, and these are tell-tale signs that the healthcare industry is at the centre of an image crisis. A crisis, which if not addressed now, might be too big to handle later.
What fuels this image issue can be dissected into following elements:
- The healthcare industry is seen by all stakeholders from a socialist lens and therefore, any aspect of profit-making is classified as 'profiteering'.
- A multitude of stakeholders, each of them having a unique perspective, makes it increasingly difficult to cater to individual information needs along with uniformity of messaging.
- There has been a lack of proactive campaigning and communication. The industry and its components have not done a great job – especially in APAC – to tell their story in a manner which appeals to not only the rational side but also the emotional side of its stakeholders. The industry has been quite taciturn in its messaging and is usually controlled by both internal and external regulations for building a narrative.
These are serious issues, which over decades have continued to erode the image of the industry. I do believe that if the industry invests in creating a system that looks at communication as the core of its engagement with different stakeholders, this crisis may be able to be rectified.
The healthcare and pharma industry is facing a larger issue of 'trust deficit' and a possible approach to this could be effective communication across all stakeholders that integrates value, expertise and trust (VET).
On one hand, we are aware that consumers, policymakers and companies must recognise the need for greater empathy on all public discourse across platforms. But given the profound changes currently underway in the global pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, especially across Asian economies, there is an urgent need to integrate trust, value and expertise into communications.
Aman Gupta is founder of SPAG Group
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