Nearly half of Americans believe that the way a pharma company communicates with them is just as important as the effectiveness of their treatments, according to a recent report released by M Booth Health. 

Additionally, more than half of respondents indicated that the company that manufactures their medicine matters to them. 

Not surprisingly, the evolution of the perception of pharma mainstays – from healthcare-specific brands to lifestyle ones – can be traced to the pandemic. The race to produce effective COVID-19 vaccines, antivirals and treatments increased consumer awareness and expectations, according to Mark Westall, SVP of strategy, insight and innovation at M Booth Health.

“The pharma brand awareness increased along with the level of understanding in the differences between those brands from simply being a treatment to having a message,” he explained. “That plays out in terms of what it means for actual treatment selection among patients.” 

Westall said that as consumers increasingly recognize pharma brands as lifestyle brands – think Nike or Amazon – patients have become more empowered. The study revealed that one-third of respondents have turned down a treatment recommended by their doctor. Notably, African Americans and Latino patients reported being more confident and vocal than the general population.  

This newfound confidence has inspired consumers to research the science behind their treatments and voice their opinions to doctors. While patient empowerment is generally a good thing, nearly all HCPs surveyed said they have encountered misinformation from their patients.

While awareness of pharma’s triumphs has increased in recent years, brand affinity only stretches so far. 

Tayla Mahmud, EVP of health equity and multicultural strategy at M Booth Health, noted that while companies like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson have improved their reputations during the pandemic, those brands will be judged on their actions going forward. She said generational trauma and deep-rooted experiences with the medical community that affect some healthcare consumers, especially people of color, have long-lasting ripple effects.

“People of color have been impacted the most by COVID-19, so with that comes a new set of expectations for these pharma companies,” Mahmud noted. 

When asked to list their expectations for pharma companies, respondents pointed to a desire for help with addressing health information as well as more transparency and information around drug development and clinical trials. They also expressed a desire for more compassionate communications.

More than ever before, consumers are asking brands to specify how certain drugs and treatments will impact their lives, Mahmud said.

“The sentiment has shifted, but the expectations have grown in terms of what consumers need from this relationship,” she added.