Despite the increased attention that the Sunshine Act will bring to the pharma-physician relationship, it actually represents an opportunity for the industry to strengthen ties with physicians.

As you know by now, The Physician Payment Sunshine Act (PPSA) is going to put the pharma-physician relationship under the ethical magnifying glass. However, this should not be viewed as a death sentence but rather an opportunity for forward-thinking companies to strengthen their ties with physicians. Even though many companies and physicians are anxious about the logistical aspects of Sunshine Act compliance, the behavioral impact has yet to be determined. One of the key concerns of this legislation is the influence on collaborative efforts between industry and the physician community—constructive, patient-care centered activities like health-professional education, clinical research, and drug adverse event and benefit reporting. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (DTTL) conducted a survey earlier this year for Forbes Insights, interviewing 110 U.S.-based physicians and 223 global executives from life sciences companies worldwide. The survey, Physician Payment Sunshine Act: Physicians and life sciences companies coming to terms with transparency (bit.ly/NBXN4h), found that more than 50% of responding doctors have relationships with industry, with 65% willingly accepting free samples. In addition, 52% attended industry-supported or sponsored continuing medical education (CME) seminars, and 57% consider those CME seminars the best means for learning about new medications and treatments; detailing (52%) and samples (42%) were also considered effective in that regard.

The Sunshine Act offers an opportunity for pharmaceutical companies to strengthen customer communication and highlight what activities are important to advancing medicines that can improve the human condition. Still, companies must consider U.S.-based compliance with the law and how transparency can be a tool for conversation with professional and patient advocates.

FOUR THOUGHTS FOR GREATER TRANSPARENT COLLABORATION

1. Transparency Equals Trust
Transparency is the heart of productive communications. The regulatory environment requires that advocacy, PR and public affairs professionals be part of the marketing decision process. Engaging in transparent dialogue about science and its care impact enables manufacturers to reassert patient care as the focal point. When product “reminder” items outweigh clinical updates, published articles and CME calendars, pundits question the intent and potential for hidden information.

2. Offer Solutions to Real Health Problems
Promotional dollars once earmarked for reminder efforts can instead be leveraged to forge advocacy relationships around pressing health problems. Avoid one-off efforts and seek enduring campaigns that improve patient care and reduce costs.

3. Social Media Creates Community
Pharma is still finding its way with social media. Some companies use it for promotional purposes while others treat their websites as traditional one-way, one-visit vehicles. But, these tools are best used as intended—driving interactive dialogue between and within communities.

4. Partner with Third-party Advocates and Media
Trust is the building block to relationships, and relationships—built through conversations and word-of-mouth campaigns—are a brand’s foundation. Advocacy and PR professionals build these programs with traditional media, but also with other societies such as patient advocacy groups, grassroots coalitions, trade groups, social media communities and more.

The time for the branded pen is no more. However, the importance of timely access to innovation remains steadfast and critical. Public affairs and communications expertise should be brought to the forefront in tackling patient-care issues. Physicians will continue treating patient ills . . . even if it means writing a prescription with their own pen. The bigger opportunities await savvy marketers and public affairs experts who can outline those treatment solutions in transparent ways.

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