By Marc Helberg, Managing Vice President of Pariveda Solutions

In a competitive market, brands rely on their reputations to give them an edge. However, these reputations are built on perceptions — and because it’s up to consumers to develop their own perceptions, brands may feel as though they have less control in developing lasting loyalty. This is especially true in the pharmaceutical industry due to where pharmaceutical manufacturers reside within healthcare’s value chain. In the patient-doctor relationship, pharmaceutical companies are the left-out third wheel.

Proactive reputation management is one of the reasons we’re seeing more and more brands take a stand on issues (including controversial ones). Today, the majority of people are “belief-driven buyers.” Basically, consumers want to feel good about the companies they support. And pharma can improve relationships with the patient in plenty of ways.


Fostering Patient-Centricity

Improving the reputation of the pharmaceutical industry can seem like a momentous challenge, especially because drug manufacturers are so far removed from the patient. The drug company isn’t prescribing the medication; it’s the physician — and that’s the key. Pharmaceutical brands should consider using doctors as change agents, and the pharmaceutical industry’s patient engagement would likely improve in turn.

In fact, a 2019 Accenture survey revealed that 71% of patients would be willing to share with doctors detailed information on the daily impact of their conditions if it led to better care. The same can’t be said for drug companies, which ranked last on the list at 49%. If pharmaceutical brands want to better understand patients and take a more patient-centric approach to pharmaceuticals, physicians could help bridge the information gap (within the parameters of the Sunshine Act).

The gap could be closed even further with community outreach, which many drug companies already do. Pharmaceutical companies must consider their goals and objectives and determine how this potential community service applies. Could it be used as an educational opportunity? What about value creation for branding? With the last two presidential administrations accusing pharmaceuticals of price gouging, a fresh approach could certainly help change perceptions about drug companies being money-hungry.


Finding a New Way Forward

If strong relationships with patients aren’t possible, pharmaceutical companies must look for alternate sources of patient information. One potential source is an advisory or partnership program with patients. The intent of such an initiative is to engage patients in the drug development process with the goal of co-creating more patient-centric medicines, services, and education opportunities.

Engagement services is yet another option to explore. According to the 2019 Accenture survey, 76% of patients expect drug companies to proactively engage with them as it relates to medications. How this looks will vary by pharmaceutical brand, but direct manufacturer-to-patient correspondence on treatment options and how to better manage a condition would be a good start.

Beyond that, pharmaceutical patient advocacy groups could also be beneficial. The same Accenture survey found that 67% of patients feel advocacy groups understand their healthcare needs much better than pharmaceutical companies — but there are regulations around the information that an advocacy group is allowed to share with drug companies. It’s a tricky problem.

The biggest challenge pharmaceutical companies face in improving brand reputation is where to focus their efforts, but one pathway is clearer than the rest. Patient engagement in pharmaceuticals is the best place to start garnering trust and building a solid reputation. It’s up to forward-thinking pharmaceutical brands to blaze that trail.


About the Author

Marc Helberg is the managing vice president at the Philadelphia office of Pariveda Solutions, a consulting firm driven to create innovative, growth-oriented, and people-first solutions. Read more about the work Pariveda Solutions does here.