On April 3rd, we explored as yet uncharted territory for #hcsmca, namely pharmaceutical companies, their reputation and the role they can or should play in the future of health care. The chat was moderated by @williampearl who also wrote an article on her blog, Social Media Pearls, introducing her framing of the topics.

T1: What can pharmaceutical companies do to improve their reputation /relationships in health care?

The first comments pointed to transparency and accountability as key ingredients to improving their reputation. They should, for example, explain where the money goes, why they stop certain drug production or how they target the research funds.

Participants cited examples of positive actions that pharmaceutical companies have taken. @CLOUDHealth mentioned Pfizer’s role in a young boy’s recovery and @Colleen_Young linked to a now archived website – SharingStrength.ca – for women with breast cancer in Canada that was sponsored by Astra Zeneca. Others reminded us that some pharma companies help patients pay for their drugs and finance non-profit organizations.

Hcsma-ers agreed that pharmaceutical companies have to be transparent when they sponsor organizations. When it is correctly managed, it seems that patients have no problem with the fact that a pharmaceutical company is involved.

Some hcsmca-ers think they also have to show transparency regarding their trials and notably the ones that are not made public. Besides, @rhartnup shared the website AllTrials.net that is petitioning to have all trials past and present registered, and the full methods and the results reported. They hope to encourage governments, regulators and research bodies to implement measures to achieve this.

Hcsmca-ers also approached the subject of sponsored continuing medical education (CME). Indeed, pharmaceutical companies are very involved in funding CME. Some questioned the sustainability of CME without their financial help. However, in a perfect world, they should invest in CME without influencing the healthcare professionals on their prescription practice.

T2: How can pharmaceutical companies help/support the social change in health care and patient communities?

Hcmaca-ers mentioned that these companies should listen more to what’s happening on social media and to the patient’s voice. However it was noted that because of legislation regulating pharma, they don’t have a big field of action.

It is difficult not to be suspicious when it comes to pharmaceutical companies actions. Hcsmca-ers tend to think that whatever they do, there is a marketing goal behind their action. They are a business and like all businesses they need to see a return on investment.

During this chat @willimapearl also mentioned the new titles that she observed appearing in pharmaceutical companies, such as “Director of Patient Experience” or “Director of Patient Advocacy”.

Community members also think pharma could help patients find treatment alternatives to manage their diseases.

If I could sum up this discussion with one word, that would be scepticism. Indeed, even if we saw some examples of positive actions, pharmaceutical companies’ good will remains in doubt. When talking about pharmaceutical companies, nothing is simply black or white. They have a big role to play in patients’ lives but they also have to be disassociated.

The full transcript is well worth the read.

Edited by Colleen Young