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Our consumer perceptions of Pharma survey: Top ten findings

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Despite the millions of lives that are saved by pharmaceutical drugs each year, the pharmaceutical industry struggles against an enduring bad reputation. It’s not difficult to find statistics attesting to the frustration that many consumers feel about rising drug prices, corruption, and other real challenges that pharmaceutical companies face.

But despite the negative public opinion, pharmaceutical companies do play a crucial positive role in society. Many of the physicians, researchers, and executives in the industry are motivated by a desire to make the world a happier, healthier place. If pharmaceutical companies can gain deeper insight into what consumers care most about — and into what factors contribute most to negative public opinion — they can more effectively implement necessary reforms and build a reputation of trust and benevolence with their customers.

That is why we commissioned this new survey — a survey that dives deeper into the priorities, concerns, and hopes that shape the public’s perception of pharmaceutical companies. We hope that these insights can contribute to reforms and drive innovations within the industry that will repair the relationship between pharma companies and patients.

This survey of over 1,000 American consumers was conducted by Haven Insights, a leading research firm that works with organizations such as Stanford, MIT, and P&G. More details about the methodology and results of the study can be found by downloading the full report here (link to powerpoint report).

Here are the top ten findings that we think can contribute to the conversation around the reformation and reputation of the pharmaceutical industry.

1. Only 5.2% of respondents have a “very positive” view of pharmaceutical companies.

It wasn’t surprising to find that almost half of our respondents have a “negative” or “very negative” view of pharmaceutical companies. But it’s sobering to realize that only a tiny fraction would consider their opinion of the industry to be “very positive.” This is a sobering revelation for an industry that revolves around healing people, and is indicative of how much ground pharmaceutical companies must make up in their efforts to repair their relationships with patients.

2. Negative views of pharmaceutical companies increase with age.

63% of those over 60 have a “very negative” or “negative” view of pharmaceutical companies, compared to just 36% of 30-39 year-olds. Similarly, 60% of those over 60 believe that drug companies charge unreasonably high prices, compared to just 36% of 18-29 year-olds.

We look at this as a hopeful statistic. The rising generation represents an opportunity for pharma companies to start fresh with customers who are likely at the beginning their relationship with the pharmaceutical industry.

3. 72% believe that pharma companies care more about making money than they do about helping patients with their health problems.

This is another sobering statistic. It seems that the best intentions of the pharmaceutical industry often go unrecognized. The responsibility of resolving this challenge falls largely on the shoulders of the industry’s leaders, who must hold themselves and their companies to a higher standard of ethics and altruism.

4. 77% believe that the consumer prices of drugs are unreasonably high

This is perhaps the most commonly cited reason for popular frustration against the pharmaceutical industry. Fortunately, this is another concern that pharma companies are increasingly being empowered to address.

As I have written in Forbes and elsewhere, technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, and blockchain have the potential to significantly decrease the consumer price of drugs. This is at the heart of what we do here at Innoplexus. And given that 82% of consumers rate drug prices as “very” or “extremely” important in shaping their perception of the pharma industry, this should be taken as great news for drug companies.

5. 62% are concerned that pharma companies are not transparent about payments to healthcare professionals that might create a conflict of interest.

Pharma companies must realize that the way they compensate physicians who consult on or lead clinical trials does not go unnoticed. Lack of transparency can create the appearance of corruption even when no corruption exists. In order to build trust, companies should consider implementing higher transparency standards for physician compensation and more rigorous ethical guidelines to avoid clear conflicts of interest.

6. 75% feel that pharma companies increase the cost of medications without warning

This is a negative perception that is well within the power of pharma companies to resolve. A full 79% of respondents said that it is “very” or “extremely” important to them that companies warn patients about potential increases in the price of medications. Given the high priority that consumers place on this when forming their opinions of the pharmaceutical industry, companies would do well to invest in creative ways to educate consumers about upcoming price increases.

7. 73% said that their opinion of pharma companies would improve if companies were more transparent about what goes into the cost of medications.

This is another issue that pharma companies can easily mitigate through improved consumer education. Pharma companies should be eager to embrace technologies like blockchain that can improve their ability to track costs across a drug’s life cycle, and should promote transparency and public education initiatives that help consumers appreciate the complex work that goes into the development of a drug.

8. 59% said that their opinion of pharma companies would improve if companies were quick to report negative clinical trial results.

This is an area in which we would love to see reform — not only for the sake of public opinion, but for the sake of innovation as well. When researchers hesitate to share failures amongst each other, they aren’t able to learn from each other’s mistakes. This slows the overall pace of innovation significantly. Companies should consider promoting the open sharing of negative results, both internally and with the public at large.

9. 55% said their perception of pharma companies would improve if companies embraced transparency and welcomed third-party evaluations of their clinical trial data.

Again, embracing transparency is a relatively simple step that every company can take to improve public trust and opinion. Companies that are operating with integrity should welcome transparency as a way to demonstrate that they have nothing to hide, and the industry as a whole would be better off if accountability was better enforced when necessary.

10. 78% said that it is “very” or “extremely” important to them that pharmaceutical companies focus on developing medications that offer long-term health benefits.

We think that this is an interesting insight because it can actually inform the product strategy of pharmaceutical companies, rather than their processes, standards, or public education efforts.

Nearly half of respondents believe that pharma companies are preoccupied with medications that only offer short-term health benefits. Whether or not this is actually the case, companies should be sensitive to the fact that their customers think better of them when their products promote long-term health outcomes.

Unlike the statistics in this report, the amount of good that pharma companies do in the world each day is unquantifiable. We at Innoplexus hope that companies will use these insights to shape innovations and policies that will strengthen their relationships with patients and build a healthier world for all.

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