A new study has revealed that most Americans are unlikely to purchase health products from a brand that has experienced a recall, even if the issue was resolved.

The research, conducted by Qualio, provides further insight into the value of organizational reputation for healthcare brands, especially in an era where consumers have access to more information than ever before.

Around three-quarters of respondents said they actively follow the news for updates related to healthcare products they use. More than 80% stated they want the Food and Drug Administration to publicize quality management system (QMS) data about a manufacturer’s entire operation. A similar amount indicated they would rely on a public-facing quality culture score.

According to Kelly Stanton, director of quality at Qualio, recalls pose a serious risk to the operations of healthcare organizations large and small. She mentioned that the reputational damage of a recall can be long-lasting if consumer concerns aren’t adequately addressed in a timely fashion. By way of example, she pointed to Merck’s Vioxx recall in 2004.

“Consumers tend to hold an entire brand accountable, not just a product, when they learn that there’s a problem,” Stanton noted. 

A recent example included in the survey was the reputational hit experienced by Johnson & Johnson during the rollout of its COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly half of respondents who thought J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine was of lower quality than Pfizer’s attributed their belief to the pause instituted by the Food and Drug Administration in April 2021. Still, more than 60% of respondents stated that recalls are less off-putting if they are for rare issues.

The study was released months after Abbott Nutrition voluntarily recalled powder infant formula produced at a Michigan plant following four consumer complaints of serious bacterial infection. The FDA is also investigating a report of a baby’s death after consuming infant formula. The recall and temporary shutdown of the manufacturing plant led to nationwide infant formula shortages for weeks. 

Stanton said companies should be mindful of the fact that consumers are paying more attention to healthcare products, noting how the COVID-19 pandemic altered consumer perception of supply chains. To that end, she urged a focus on transparency and renewed commitment among pharma brands on quality system standards.

This, she added, is especially important when a problem has been identified and an organization takes steps to correct the issue, even if it requires a voluntary recall. 

“To the general consumer public, you should try to be transparent in your communications of what happened, how you’re dealing with it and how it’s being contained,” Stanton said.