To help solve patient distrust in pharma, industry collaboration is key

The past two years have shone a spotlight on the UK life sciences industry. Pharma companies are now household names, having been thrust into the public’s consciousness after dominating the headlines through the pandemic.

The UK pharma sector should emerge from COVID-19 with a great deal of goodwill in the bank, especially after rapidly developing vaccines that are helping to steer the world out of the pandemic. These efforts, as Nadhim Zahawi rightly said when he was Vaccines Minister, have led to the life sciences and pharma industry becoming a UK national treasure. An industry that will forever play a greater role in our everyday lives.

However, despite all this and our reliance on pharma for everyday clinical services, recent research shows that the UK pharma industry still faces a reputational challenge.

A reputational problem remains

Our recent Health and Life Sciences Experience Survey showed that trust in the industry has only risen by 12% compared to before the pandemic. This is a stark reminder that the industry still has further to go to convince patients it is working in their best interests. Pharma can only continue to grow their business models, and deliver faster for our growing population, if the public trusts the industry to deliver against their needs.

This increased brand recognition clearly acts as a double-edged sword. It brings an expectation and a need for pharma to deliver more, move faster, and therefore grow trust as they reach further into peoples’ lives. Once the focus shifts away from delivering booster vaccines for COVID-19, which has been rolled out effectively here in the UK, the industry will have to address patient services and treatments that have been overlooked during this time – particularly oncology and dementia, and rare disease research.

Concerns over sharing patient data is one example of the reputational challenge pharma faces. Only 33% of the UK public would trust pharmaceutical companies to keep their health data secure – whilst, for instance, 89% trust information from traditional healthcare providers – such as doctors and hospitals. It is a pertinent case of what could limit pharma’s future growth and highlights resistance to a future in which pharmaceutical companies take up a greater share of patient care.

There are plans by the UK health sector containing bold proposals to modernise patient information storage. The integration of AI to digitally centralise patient data, through third parties, will most likely prove to be one of the best ways to improve efficiencies, hasten care and bring better care to patients, as well as giving them greater control of their own health data. However, people are more aware than ever of how their personal data is used as well as their data privacy needs. The only way concerns around data usage can be overcome is if the industry places patient trust at the heart of its decision making.

The solution lies in collaboration

So how can this trust problem be solved? Pharma’s new-found reputation has come from the collaboration between governments, healthcare providers and pharmaceutical firms throughout the pandemic. Therefore, harnessing this new collaborative approach could be the best way to strengthen trust in pharma.

Accenture’s Healthcare Provider Survey found that two-thirds (64%) of UK healthcare providers (HCPs) communicate with pharma sales representatives now more than before the pandemic, and 71% agree that pharmaceutical companies are being more helpful in offering virtual solutions. Whilst a lack of engagement held back progress here before the pandemic, the industry came together for the necessary adoption of tech, accelerating the uptake of telehealth among patients.

This can also be supported through working closer with patient representative groups. They are important stakeholders, providing a key link between producers and the end-user. The industry must listen to their concerns whilst responding as quickly as possible to feedback and complaints.

Learn lessons now to fight future pandemics

This momentum with collaboration and partnership, both with other companies within the industry, as well as external bodies, cannot be lost. This is especially the case when the focus on vaccine development subsides, once virtual offerings become less necessary day-to-day, and as we move beyond the pandemic.

The industry is traditionally, and through the nature of its work, an industry that has the mindset to invent and re-invent itself. So, in that vein, UK pharma can seize the opportunity, to instil the levels of trust the industry needs to effectively provide a brighter future in patient care. This can be done if pharma uses collaboration to focus on outcomes and wellbeing, whilst responsibly managing patient data to boost innovation and solve rare diseases.

The pandemic has thrown public health into the spotlight like never before, and it would be naïve to assume this won’t happen again in lifetimes. For when that moment comes, the pharma industry, government, regulators and healthcare providers, must be able to show they have taken on the lessons of this pandemic: that collaboration does deliver forward-looking patient-centric solutions. To be ready, pharmaceutical firms will need a more positive image, so that they are accountable, and continue to deliver the care and services patients need.

About the author

Pervaise KhanPervaise Khan leads Accenture’s UK life sciences strategy and consulting practice, advising pharmaceutical companies on technology strategies to drive change. He has worked on various pharmaceutical projects including technology strategy for vaccines and new growth models. He is a member of the Great Britain Royal Pharmaceutical Society and is a board member of the UKI Industrial Pharmacy Group. Prior to Accenture, Pervaise worked for GlaxoSmithKline as well as St Mary’s Hospital in London.