Over the years, public distrust in the pharmaceutical industry has increased gradually. In addition, the tendency of mass media/social media to sensationalize and selectively report scientific information has negatively shaped the public perception of pharma, which may lead to scientific findings being rejected and may have negative consequences on public health. Therefore, initiatives to change public understanding are necessary. I had the opportunity to attend the ISMPP Virtual 17th Annual Meeting in April this year, and below is a summary of a session on the topic: “The public face of science – Building trust”. This session was conducted by eminent speakers, namely, Dave Andrews, Director, Meridian HealthComms, Tom Grant, Director, Willow Medical Communications Ltd., Catherine Skobe, Sr Director, Publications; Innovative Solutions Lead, Pfizer, and Guy Yeoman, International Medical Head, Mallinckrodt.
Three prominent themes were discussed in this session that could help build public trust:
1) Patient engagement
It is crucial to engage with patients at all levels, including lay patients and caregivers, online communities, clinical study patients, patient advocacy groups, and patient experts. Although communication should cater to their differential levels of understanding, basic principles of being open and developing sustainable patient partnerships, being compassionate and respectful of patients’ opinions, and delivering improvement in patient experiences and outcomes should be followed. A patient engagement plan should therefore be developed right from the initial discovery phase through the post-approval stage of drug development.
2) Transparency as the key to unlocking patient value
The pharma industry is more likely than non-profit trial funders to disseminate trial results. However, there is scope for improvement in transparent reporting of trials. To that effect, more pharma companies could mandate open access publishing to ensure that peer-reviewed data are widely accessible. Moreover, timely disclosure of negative trial data should be facilitated. That being said, data sharing statements are of limited value, as currently, they do not translate well to data access. While the ability of preprints to provide early access to data could be beneficial, especially during a public health emergency as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, inherent limitations of preprints, especially in light of media reporting, should be considered. Preprints have increased the need for peer reviews—the third-party evaluation rigor typically applies to scientific information published in journals. Media should develop a standardized disclosure, suggesting that preprints are preliminary, are not fully validated, and cannot be relied upon to guide clinical practice. To date, the pharmaceutical industry has had limited engagement with preprint servers.
3) Bridging the gap between scientific facts and the public
Since medical publication professionals act as a bridge between research and data presented in the public domain, the use of innovative and easy-to-understand materials, such as plain language summaries, audio and video abstracts, and infographics, should become more mainstream than ever. While the publisher is regarded as unbiased and can reach a wider global audience through social media, possible misinterpretation due to character count limitations and use of abbreviations/acronyms should be accounted for. A worrisome example is that over one-third of the patients reported that social media affects how they take their medications and how they manage their chronic conditions, as reported in a large patient survey. Collaboration among journals and publishers, medical communication agencies, professional societies, and patient advocates could help ensure integrity of communication. Open access publishing, use of plain language summaries, and generation of non-biased social media content are some of the important ways to build public trust.
“Nothing in science has any value to society if it is not communicated, and scientists are beginning to learn their social obligations.”
-Anne Roe, The Making of a Scientist (1953)
The above quote is more relevant today than ever. In summary, this session highlighted the need to rely on innovation and explain the science in an easy-to-understand and non-biased manner through a concerted effort by governments and the pharma industry to build public trust.
This article is part of the Virtual 17th Annual ISMPP Meeting report. Get your full copy of this comprehensive report today!