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In Pharma We (Don’t) Trust

The 2018 Trust Barometer Survey from PR and marketing firm Edelman reports that trust in pharma in the US has seen the biggest drop yet in the five years since they started tracking it. Edelman assesses consumer trust in a variety of sectors, including the media, government, and healthcare, with pharma forming one sub-sector of the Health category. A 13-point drop in trust from 51 in 2017 to 38 in 2018 percent saw the pharma industry go from neutral into firmly distrusted territory – and pharma was also the least trusted sub-sector of healthcare in general. Internationally, consumer feeling towards pharma remained unchanged, at a neutral 55 percent – but across the globe, 80 percent of respondents reported that they felt that pharma companies placed profits ahead of patients, and 17 of 28 markets surveyed saw trust in healthcare overall decline (1).

It wasn’t bad news in all markets – South Korea and Japan both saw significant increases in trust in pharmaceuticals, due to factors including adoption of anti-corruption regulations, new medicines becoming available, and marketing reforms.

Edelman offer two hypotheses for the significant drop in the US: the “blame game” surrounding the rising cost of healthcare, and the high cost of drugs – two areas in which the pharma industry is often apportioned considerable blame. The report authors also offer some advice to those in the healthcare industry looking to boost their credibility (2):

  • Be your own publisher: only 53 percent of consumers trust health news, so using your own channels to share stories may be more effective. 
  • Focus on solutions: don’t take part in the pricing blame game; instead, show your audience how you can play a role in the solution.
  • Be the lab, not the sales force: focus on messaging around R&D, innovation and hard science versus profits, sales and marketing to avoid the “pricing outrage cycle”.
  • Treat the whole person: the Edelman data shows that people generally have positive feelings towards the future of health technology – and holistic wellness and disease management solutions matter as well as new treatments.
  • Localize and humanize: tailor your communications to meet local standards and expectations. One size does not fit all.
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  1. Edelman, “2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, Healthcare: Global”, (2018). Available at: Accessed June 26, 2018.
  2. Edelman, “Trust in healthcare”, (2018). Available at: Accessed June 26, 2018.
About the Authors
Roisin McGuigan

I have an extensive academic background in the life sciences, having studied forensic biology and human medical genetics in my time at Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities. My research, data presentation and bioinformatics skills plus my ‘wet lab’ experience have been a superb grounding for my role as a Deputy Editor at Texere Publishing. The job allows me to utilize my hard-learned academic skills and experience in my current position within an exciting and contemporary publishing company.

Joanna Cummings

A former library manager and storyteller, I have wanted to write for magazines since I was six years old, when I used to make my own out of foolscap paper and sellotape and distribute them to my family. Since getting my MSc in Publishing, I’ve worked as a freelance writer and content creator for both digital and print, writing on subjects such as fashion, food, tourism, photography – and the history of Roman toilets. Now I can be found working on The Analytical Scientist, finding the ‘human angle’ to cutting-edge science stories.

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