Can pharma really afford to “be more human”?

The recent hullabaloo with some pharma companies pulling out of Facebook got me thinking about whether it is even probable for pharma companies to come across as “more human” and therefore viewed as willing to connect with consumers/patients beyond the PR and marketing scripts.

For example, can pharma companies — whether on Twitter or Facebook — afford to respond with “I don’t know” when asked a question*?

*They are free to follow up with, “I’m not the best person to give you this advice, your doctor is, how may I help you engage your doctor so that you can get meaningful dialog going?”

Can pharma companies afford to say, “we have seen this side effect in our clinical studies that we’ve submitted to the FDA” when patient complains about a certain side effect?

Can pharma companies afford to say, “I’m sorry”?

Is this the problem? — That pharma companies believe they simply cannot afford to come across as more human because of what it will cost?

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Can pharma really afford to “be more human”?

  1. Earl Stevens

    Hi Jane

    I think you have put it well. They cannot afford to be too human because at the end of the day they rely on statistics to get them through. Statistics talk about acceptable risk and acceptable percentages – and ignore the fact that each percentage or fraction thereof is actually a human life with friends and families connected.

    But the options of having no pharma and returning to the old dark ages with no hope at all for many of the aging diseases we face is not something I or many others would want to contemplate.

    Next week I am having a revision of my right total hip replacement. Am I upset about this – yes for sure – but not as upset as I would be if I couldn’t walk as was the case before my first replacement August 2008.

    So – they have a true “catch 22” and we have to see it both ways.

    BUT – if they lie, cheat, bribe and steal – then they deserve all the get – plus more!


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  3. Jane Chin, Ph.D.

    Thank you, Earl — I visited your “About” page, what an interesting life story you have!

    I have seen the good that pharma can do… in my LinkedIn profile when I share what I found most memorable in each of the company I worked with, one that struck me was when one of the companies had a compound (drug) that it wasn’t planning on marketing but once in a while will take out a batch to assay so that it could be given to a cancer patient that responded really well to that particular version of the drug. Sometimes I get frustrated with the good that I see pharma has done, with the bad that it also does. I want it to do better because I know it can do better. But the current business environment has shifted to one of risk avoidance as the primary operative.

    Lawyers talk about letter of the law v. spirit of the law. Today’s lawyers are taking the letter of the law to the extreme and at the expense of the spirit of the law, causing society to react by using law as weapon, remedy, and pretty much agents of revenge for any perceived slight and injury. I was just reading in an anthology about how doctors used to discuss openly their mistakes in such a way that their peers can learn from them… no more; malpractice has changed this. So now all doctors order tons of tests to cover their asses, healthcare costs rise to meet these tests, no one talks about mistakes or lessons learned for fear of lawsuits, and consumers get ads on TV from lawyers eager to present them. If there is ever an author who wants to write a medical version of Handmaid’s Tale, the time is ripe.

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