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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Transparency and accountability: tackling opacity and blame head-on

Delivering effective, code-compliant, transparent experiences and communications

HAVAS LynxLet’s be honest, big pharma has a trust problem and many people, encouraged by an often one-sided media, love to hate them. Faceless corporations tainted by past own-goals, excessive profiteering and misinformation about their medicines – so goes the lazy narrative.

Healthcare is a complex business with people fundamentally at its heart – patients, families, carers and myriad healthcare providers, researchers and allied professionals. Woven throughout this tapestry are relationships with pharma. Data-driven, evidence-based medicine is critical – but evidence alone will not change behaviours and build relationships. Trust nurtures relationships through shared values, mistrust destroys them, and the catalyst to build trust is communication. We see this play out every day with fake news stories in the media.

But what’s this got to do with transparency and accountability? Trust has everything to do with it.

In most European countries, we have codes of conduct for pharma communications derived from ethical principles. They govern our trust in healthcare communications, medical education and pharmaceutical advertising; some are better than others, sure, but do they keep pace with 21st century communications? They offer guidance certainly, but are open to interpretation when navigating current or new healthcare landscapes. If we are to act differently, the challenge for us all is to understand their ethical intent and apply critical thinking to the compliance lens.

When working with medical and compliance teams unsure about alternative communication solutions, I’ve frequently made the point that doing nothing is often compliant, but is ethically, and by extension commercially, flawed. ’First do no harm’ – primum non nocere – is a fundamental tenet of medicine that rightly enshrines patient safety. But what if doing nothing, or simply doing the same old thing for our communications, might actually do more harm than good? How can we better support patients and healthcare professionals to confidently navigate and make decisions in a world of increasing complexity, choices and uncertainty?

‘The measure of intelligence is the ability to change’ Einstein

Pharmaceutical companies now compete with tech giants, companies that understand the power of customer experience, and expectations of healthcare audiences have changed. For example, many clinicians are now using tools like WhatsApp to efficiently answer questions, work with colleagues and improve patient care because they lack viable alternatives – despite inherent data security risks.

Adoption of smartphones is nigh on ubiquitous, letting us manage all aspects of our modern lives from banking to finding love. And healthcare is not, and should not be, exempt. Changing nothing potentially risks far more than changing everything. In our data-driven, connected world, pharma must employ more sophisticated ways of providing the right information, to the right people, at the right time and by extension foster more effective dialogues

We work through these thorny issues with our clients, helping identify and mitigate potential risks; risks associated with social media, open interrogation of study data, real-time communications, scientific exchange, non-personal promotion and real-world data strategies. We work with target audiences to co-develop and deliver communications and services they want rather than pushing one-size-fits-all product messages.

This is how we’ve embraced the consumer-empowered brave new world of healthcare communications, and we call it Helpful Change. We’ve pioneered this approach since 2009, but big pharma hasn’t wholeheartedly embraced it. We think this is the only way to break new ground, deliver experiences and communications that are code-compliant, transparent, relevant and trusted. Even better, we’ve proven how effective they are with higher engagement and measurably better outcomes for patients, healthcare providers and health systems as a whole, which is ultimately what we’re all aiming for.

Vernon Bainton is Chief Medical Officer at the Havas Lynx Group. To find out, visit:

29th May 2018

From: Marketing



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