U.S. trust in pharma ticks upward, but consumers still distrust the industry: survey

Edelman Trust Barometer Study 2019
The U.S. pharma sector falls in the lower "distrust" range with consumers around the world, according to Edelman's annual trust barometer. (Edelman)

The good news is trust in the pharma industry is up. The bad news is that it’s still not enough to move the industry out of "distrusted" status.

Edelman’s annual trust barometer research recorded an increase of 6 points in the U.S. that helped pharma reach a new ratings score of 44. However, that’s still considered untrusted territory by Edelman; the industry would need to reach 50 to get to neutral territory and to 60 to be considered trusted under the Edelman ratings. Globally, the pharma industry’s trust rating rose 4 points to 67, ranking in the lower half of the 15 industries studied.

Technology was the most trusted industry, with a 78 rating.

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Still, for pharma it was a big turnaround year after a dive of 13 points in the study last year, which led Edelman to believe that maybe some of the gains this year were “somewhat of a rebound effect.”

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“So what happened? Certainly a lot of great gains in terms of life-saving medicines and types of therapies—oncology, rare disease discovery are on fire—so people might be feeling very good about the possibilities that pharma is bringing to them,” Susan Isenberg, Edelman's global health chair, said, adding that pricing may have also been a factor.

“We field the study in October and November and at that time, many of the pharma companies had promised to hold off on any price increases until January 2019, which may have also played a role in the bump up,” she said.

Overall, trust in healthcare—which includes pharma, biotech and life sciences, hospitals and clinics, insurance and consumer health—increased by 8 points in the U.S. to reach 61.

Edelman does not define the categories, only asking respondents, “Please indicate how much you trust businesses in each of the following industries to do what is right” and asking them to score on a 9-point scale, with 9 being the highest. Edelman then asks: “Now thinking about specific sectors within the health industry, please indicate how much you trust businesses in each of the following sectors to do what is right.”

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Isenberg offered some tips for pharma based on the study’s findings this year for what companies can do to work on raising trust scores even more. With technology being a trusted industry, pharma companies can focus efforts on health technology. If they have a tech story to tell in healthcare, they should.

Pharma companies should also try to harness the power and ambassadorship of employees and patient advocates. Among those most trusted to speak on behalf of a company, technical experts such as researchers and scientists earned a 65 for trust, academic experts including physicians and key opinion leaders got a 63 and coming in third were “people like yourself,” which scored 61.

And finally, pharma companies should strive to be transparent, she said, noting transparency around pricing and services is expected across all industries by consumers today.

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