Despite latest outreach efforts, LGBTQ+ patients still feel misunderstood by pharma, survey finds

From Johnson & Johnson’s recent LGBTQ+-focused depression awareness campaign to Gilead’s MOBIfest wellness festival to Galderma’s presence at New York City’s PrideFest last month, pharma companies have been stepping up their outreach to the LGBTQ+ community.

But a new report out from Phreesia Life Sciences and Klick Health shows there’s plenty of work left to do. More than half of LGBTQ patients surveyed as they checked in for doctors’ appointments feel the industry doesn’t understand their needs—and those who are transgender or identify as female were even more likely to feel misunderstood, according to the report. 

When it comes to drug ads, less than half (44%) agreed the marketing reflects their experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Worse, the survey found, LGBTQ+ patients have little faith in those ads, with 41% saying they don’t trust them at all and 26% saying they trust them “only a little.” 

When asked if pharma reaches out to the community specifically on topics that go beyond LGBTQ-specific health issues like HIV treatment and prevention, 34% percent said they “strongly disagree” and 22% said they “somewhat disagree.” 

The results echo a survey commissioned last year by CMI Media Group, the Human Rights Campaign and Wells Fargo. Nearly half of the more than 15,000 LGBTQ+ people polled in that survey said pharma companies were lacking in both their outreach to—and understanding of—the community’s needs. 

So how can pharma build trust? It’s much more than putting a picture of a gay couple in an ad or rolling out an awareness campaign during Pride month—although that’s a start, said Thea Briggs, Phreesia’s associate director of strategy.

“What builds trust is long-standing commitments to communities and really including and acknowledging their experiences,” Briggs said. “It requires a lot of information to do it right and It involves working with LGBTQ patients—not assuming that we know what they need and then hoping that it lands.”

Healthcare marketing should follow the principle of “Nothing About us Without Us,” added Klick Health senior vice president of diversity strategy Amy Gómez, in an email. That means including the LGBTQ+ community in every stage “from foundational research and insight mining, through to concept and message testing, to ensure that we deeply understand the community’s attitudes, beliefs, behaviors and unmet needs, and reflect them in our communications.”

There’s also an opportunity for pharma marketers to use awareness campaigns help combat gaps in preventative health services between LGBTQ+ patients and their straight and cisgender peers, which the report uncovered. For example, nearly half (48%) of LGBTQ+ patients over 45 said their doctor never brought up cancer screenings, even though they are at the recommended age for routine checks for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer. 

“It doesn’t necessarily mean you need new creative,” Briggs pointed out. “Other ways of boosting awareness may be the channels you’re picking or the partnerships you’re developing.”

The report suggests pharma can also help by educating HCPs about culturally competent care and offering resources to help LGBTQ+ patients afford screening that isn’t covered by insurance. Just 28% of LGBTQ+ patients surveyed said their preventive care was completely covered, for instance, compared to 48% of the overall population.

“Pharma has been so important when it comes to clinical developments in spaces that have been absolutely crucial to LGBTQ+ patients,” Briggs said. “There are a lot of places where manufacturers can step up and have a voice and have a perspective on how these patients can get the care they need.”