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Experts vs. Everyone Else: How to strike balance in healthcare comms

Author Emma Gorton
Published 21 Dec 2023
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Healthcare is evolving rapidly. To stand out from the crowd requires a potent combination of rich insight, breakthrough ideas and flawless execution.

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If you were looking to buy a new car, there would be many sources to consult for information on your purchase - expert reviews from trusted sources, direct experience from other car owners, perhaps a celebrity influencer or TV presenter, as well as the specific details from the manufacturer. There is no one better to explain the intricacies of their own product than the people that invented it and meticulously shaped it into the end product.

However, when it comes to pharmaceutical products in the UK, manufacturers are legally restricted from doing that.  

Pharmaceutical companies operate under stringent regulations regarding what they can say to the public about their own medicines. These restrictions, which are based on the law, are in place to ensure that the public is protected from misleading or harmful marketing tactics. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) Code sets out these regulations and the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA) administers the code. 

While it is correct and essential to protect the public from overly aggressive medicine promotion, the question that arises is: at what point does this protection become detrimental to the very public we're trying to safeguard? 

In the age of social media, influencers, and consumer journalism, it's easier than ever for anyone to have a platform and to speak with assumed authority on a topic. On social media, almost anyone can post about a new treatment, except for those who developed it - the pharmaceutical companies themselves. This paradox becomes even more apparent in areas that have garnered substantial public interest, such as the COVID-19 vaccine or medications for obesity.  

If non-experts are crowding out the noise of experts, are we in fact doing the public a disservice by restricting informed voices? 

There's a genuine worry when patients believe they are empowered by taking ownership of their health, yet they're obtaining information from sources lacking the necessary expertise. 

There will be an update to the ABPI Code in 2024, with the consultation due to run until the end of February. Whilst these updates will go some way to bringing the Code in line with the reality of healthcare communications in the digital age, there is only so far the Code can go within the bounds of the law.  

Is it time to stop tweaking around the edges and reimagine what healthcare comms could look like if we were to put the patient at the heart? 

In the end, healthcare communication should prioritise accuracy, evidence-based information, and transparency. We need to give pharmaceutical companies more freedom in supporting patients to understand their healthcare choices and the only way to do that is to change the law. 

© Hanover Communications 2024, an AVENIR GLOBAL company. All rights reserved.

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