Monday, October 1, 2012

What People Equate with the Word "PHARMA"

What comes to mind when you hear the word, "pharma"?




“Zero transparency.”

The question was posed by my colleage @BunnyEllerin last weekend to a roomful of patients, healthcare providers, health IT, and other health stakeholders. She was brave to ask. The answers – especially to those of us who work within the pharma industry -- were larger than life. Unhesitant. Visceral. Heavy with opinion and emotion.



The answers were heavy, too – as it was soon revealed – with stories of promised treatments that never came, a disconnect over why pharma can’t be more open, anger around the cost of medicine, and  exasperation around flagrant misconduct that has plagued the industry for years.

The conversation happened at the grassroots Partnership with Patients Summit in Kansas City September 21-23, 2012. Conceived by artist, patient advocate, and blogger Regina Holliday, the Summit was all about inspiring and connecting to drive the ePatient movement forward.  Learn more about the effort here.

What do you think of when you hear the word, "pharma?"



Similar sentiments are shared annually at the ePatient Connections conference which was held last week in Philadelphia.

A pharma-side colleague who had seen a patient panel in February mentioned recently she still remembered their strong anti-pharma sentiment. “I certainly knew patients had negative feelings toward pharma. I just didn’t realize it was that bad,” she said.

As a marketing/social media agency that largely services pharmaceutical companies, we often find ourselves straddling these two worlds. We’re at the intersection of the pharma and patient perspectives, and we witness firsthand the disconnect. We try to help bridge the gap… helping pharma companies understand what patients go through, are thinking and feeling, and counseling them on the “right” way to engage with the community. Personally, when I find myself speaking with patients, I catch myself trying to explain the pharma side as well. While I can’t speak to or defend the misconduct, I hope I can help patients understand a little about the nebulous regulations – and the fear – that muffles pharma’s voices in social media.

There’s an opportunity here to nurture understanding. To help patients show pharma what they need. And to help pharma truly understand what "patient-centric" means.

Kait B.Roe, one of the speakers at the Summit, is known for her constant reminders "that if it is CALLED patient centered, there BETTER be a patient sitting at the table- every table – yes, that one too!" She's right.

Oh - I should mention a few more words associated with pharma that day:

“Helping people.”


I often wish I could snap my fingers and close the chasm between pharma and patients. Sometimes it seems we've been having this same conversation for a very long time. But through these conversations – in groups in rooms, at conferences, one-on-one, and within social media -- we can all work toward a more shared understanding.

Will you join me?

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