Medication is a staple of modern medicine, with almost 50% of adults in the United States taking at least one prescription medication. Despite this, pharmaceutical companies have not won over public trust. A recent study found that only 48% of participants expressed trust in pharmaceutical companies. This lack of trust in such a crucial industry can lead to decreased compliance, poor treatment adherence, and negative health outcomes for patients.
The perceived lack of transparency in the pharmaceutical industry is a major contributor to the overall lack of trust. With the recent rapid rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, many people have raised questions about whether adequate research was conducted on these vaccines before approval. What people did not understand was that “fast tracking” approval does not limit the rigorous process involved in ensuring that a medication or vaccine is safe for market use. Additionally, when patients are prescribed medication, they are often unaware of the mechanism of action, potential side effects, interactions, and contraindications. Even when medical providers communicate this information to patients, it can be confusing or overwhelming, often leaving people feeling like they’ve been left in the dark. This feeling contributes to a deep mistrust in both specific branded medications and the pharmaceutical industry producing those medications.
Another factor that impacts trust in pharmaceutical companies is the discrepancy between the efficacy of medications in controlled clinical trials and their effectiveness in real-world use. This discrepancy can be caused by a variety of factors, however, one of the primary and most solvable ones is patient non-adherence to their medications. There are many reasons for patient non-adherence, including high medication costs, fear of potential side-effects, and forgetfulness, amongst others. However, the result of non-adherence is consistent. When patients do not take their medications according to the prescribed instructions, the drugs will not work as effectively as they did under the controlled conditions of a clinical trial. As patients observe this gap in the efficacy claimed by pharmaceutical companies compared to their personal experiences of lower effectiveness, their trust in specific drugs, clinical trial results, and pharmaceutical companies drops. This ultimately impacts patient perception of healthcare services in general.
Finally, the belief that pharmaceutical companies prioritise their bottom lines over the health and well-being of patients is probably the largest contributing factor to lack of trust in the industry. Given the high price tags placed on many medications, it’s easy to understand why patients often feel that they are being taken advantage of. This is especially understandable if they don’t have the means to pay for essential, potentially life-saving medications. As the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and patients breaks down, and patients feel that the industry is apathetic to their holistic wellbeing, they further disengage from interaction with the entirety of the healthcare ecosystem – including their providers, who prescribe the medications produced by pharmaceutical companies.
Adherence and education solutions – the glue between patient and pharma
In order to restore trust in the pharmaceutical industry, individual companies must invest in solutions that address the patient’s overall health – proving care is extended beyond the business interests of pharmaceutical companies. Patient-first mobile health solutions can help address the various issues that contribute to the lack of trust in the industry and improve the relationship between pharmaceutical companies, prescribers, and patients.
The first issue that adherence and education solutions can address is the perceived lack of transparency from the pharmaceutical industry. Many patient engagement applications have dedicated sections that educate patients about their prescribed medications and treatment protocols, providing them with necessary information about the mechanism of action, potential side effects, and contraindications of their medications. These explanations are provided in layman’s terms, often with videos that ease understanding and acceptability. By investing in patient education, pharmaceutical companies reduce the fear and uncertainty that many people experience when prescribed medication and dispel the perceived lack of transparency in the industry.
Patient engagement solutions can also help reduce the discrepancy between the efficacy of medications in clinical trials and their effectiveness in real-world use. By providing patients with tools and resources to help them better manage their medication regimens, such as reminders and tracking tools, pharmaceutical companies improve patient adherence, and close the gap between efficacy advertised based on clinical trial results, and personal real-world experience with medication effectiveness. As patients experience first-hand the effectiveness reported in clinical trials, trust in the validity of these trials and the intentions of the pharmaceutical companies that fund them improves.
Finally, adherence and education solutions help develop a holistic relationship between patient, provider, and pharma, so patients feel they are fully cared about and not simply walking wallets in the eyes of the pharmaceutical industry. Engagement apps dispel the notion that pharmaceutical companies are only focused on their bottom lines, by providing a source of real value to patients’ everyday lives, making them feel seen and recognised as individuals with unique lifestyles, needs, and treatment journeys. Patients experience a sense that there is a trusted voice that accompanies them, and this establishes a basis for trust and functions as a bridge between pharmaceutical companies and patients themselves.
Where are we going?
The industry is moving in the right direction to restore and strengthen patient trust. As pharmaceutical companies embrace digital solutions that engage patients, we expect to see a boom in patients becoming more empowered partners in managing their conditions (Participatory Health). We envision a future in which treatment will be comprised of a hybrid intervention model, utilising both digital disease management elements and medication elements together, to create better patient care and ultimately improved health outcomes. This dual model will empower patients to become more actively involved in their treatment decisions and will rebuild their trust in the pharmaceutical industry. Patients will live more healthily and take their medications. Pharma’s bottom line will improve. Trust between patients, physician prescribers, and pharmaceutical companies will be re-established. In this future, everyone wins – patients, pharma companies, physicians, and the overall healthcare ecosystem.
About the author
Yossi Bahagon, Chairman of Sweetch, has over 20 years’ experience in digital health. He is the founder of several digital health start-ups. Additionally, Bahagon founded a venture fund dedicated to digital health.
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