Critics of the industry believe that our relationships with healthcare professionals taint their objectivity and result in overuse of branded drugs. Some also believe that online postings of company payments to healthcare professionals will lead many to reconsider their relationships with the industry. Eli Lilly and Merck are the first companies to post their financial relationships on their company websites. Although the content of those postings differed, the reactions to these postings were similar and will allow companies that follow to better prepare.
The media were quick to run their own searches and “out” the named physicians even further by running their names and the amount of their remuneration for the local community to see.
What was clear from the coverage and the response is that the media and the public are confused about what the data means. After all, how transparent is information when the people reading it have no knowledge base from which to understand the information? If the public doesn't understand how medicines are developed and approved or who is really determining whether they receive a treatment, how can they begin to understand their HCP's relationship with the industry?
The industry's relationship with HCPs is a partnership and it is time for all of the partners to stand up and be counted. The industry cannot stand alone in educating the public about the scope of the relationship and how it benefits their care. The silence of our partners only strengthens our critic's position.
There is no doubt that these postings will continue to generate interest until such time that all companies have posted similar information and there is consistency in the information posted. Several more companies are expected to post similar information in early 2010. In addition, pending healthcare reform now incorporates the Physicians Payments Sunshine Act, which may create one national standard for this data. When that happens, the media and public will be able to compare and contrast the data from each company and track an HCP across companies.
It is too early to tell how these online disclosure initiatives will affect the industry and its relationships with HCPs or whether the result will be an improvement in the public's trust in the industry. What is clear is that we must help our companies develop the context for understanding this information and work closer with both our healthcare professional and patient partners to drive a better understanding of the value of these relationships.
Sheryl Williams is vice president, corporate & public affairs, Cephalon