A new era of engagement

23 Feb 2009


On February 04th 2009 a year long Working Party convened by the Royal College of Physicians in the UK came to some conclusions about the relationships between the medical community and the pharmaceutical industry. There were, in fact, 42 recommendations to try to re-position patients in the centre of a polemical storm about the value of relationships that has been raging for a decade -- and during which the most airtime (and media space) has been given to the perspective that interactions are clandestine, inappropriate, damaging and morally corrupt. It has been too easy to pharma-bash and too difficult to suggest that interactions, for the most part, serve the greater good -- the delivery of new treatments, a return on a massive investment for a company and the opportunity for a dedicated medical scientist (in both industry and the independent research world) to satiate their clinical, research and personal goals.

The report documented, 'a failure of trust' and 'widespread ambivalence' about working together that not only secures 'patient disillusionment' but also cauterises opportunity for future innovation. A call to restore faith in the relationship, to promote effective exchange of ideas and to redefine the terms of engagement between all parties was made.

Time to bang our heads together and play nicely!

At myPHID -- an international, internet based network that was created to assert good relationship practices and encourage open, transparent interactions -- we have a simple mantra ... 'behave differently, be a presence, build your identity' because we know from the community that uses the site, and the Pioneers that appear on the site that when good ambitions align then improved options for patients result. We eschew that it is possible to marry medicines and money and if we get the balance right it doesn't have to feel uncomfortable.

Responsible leadership is no longer about influencing opinion but is instead about aligning aspirations and realising ambitions. Doctors champion patient needs and pharma requires a positive presence in healthcare, committed to addressing these needs. Both groups want to make necessary moves to improve interactions. Embracing a new era of engagement and acknowledging the positive aspects of aligning will move this debate from rhetoric to reality.

Ultimately, the physician and the pharmaceutical professional will need to adopt, activate and align aspirations to create the physician- pharmaceutical harmony -- 'pharmony' -- that patients and the public are anticipating. Pharmony will only be possible when all participants have an equal voice within a welcoming environment. It is time to stop condemning interactions and start coaching better ways to collaborate to serve the real 'opinion leaders' in this debate - the patients.

Remarkable scientific innovations will be translated into health gains via a cooperative academic, research and medical triumvirate. Headlines, bickering and utopian ideals aside, the public simply wants relationships that give results.

How can this practically be achieved -- by engaging authentically and transparently in an environment where all voices broadcast equally. This will be helped by:

  • Adopting more 'neutral' web and multimedia technologies that have public access for review and approval.
  • Reducing the frequency of sales-rep visits that are considered to be of 'product bias'.
  • Using professional networking facilities like myPHID, which invites all stakeholders in the challenges of healthcare to communicate commendably.

Failure of trust is the major obstacle which has led the RCP Working Party to state that 'Industry has a distinctive voice that students deserve to hear' and to recommend that a more collaborative culture between industry and physicians must be created.

One such collaborative culture is that of the social network. The rise in popularity of social networking in other industries is slowly convincing pharmaceutical executives that web 2.0 tools, which rely on 'user- generated content', should be part of the infrastructure to develop a more open community. These new influencers are proving an excellent arbiter to enhance transparency and improve the authenticity of interactions between medical and pharmaceutical professionals and to trigger a renaissance of productive relationships that will enhance patient care.

At present, all but the most innovative of industry personnel are forced to ignore the popularity and value of social media to improve relationships with the medical community because governing bodies are unsure about how to validate content and discussions therein. But, loathe it or love it, the medical community of the future, who are the 'facebook/twitter/bebo generation' will insist that the immediacy of blogs, podcasts and discussion boards under the health 2.0 umbrella will underpin the interactions between industry and the medical community.

Accordingly, good relationship practice hubs like are being integrated into consultation groups to ensure that these recommendations are translated into action and to mark the start of a new and informed era of engagement.

Another myPHID mantra to leave you with ... mould your identity, magnify your presence, make a difference.

It is possible to interact well. And it is necessary.

Kind regards,


Emma D'Arcy

Leader, Scientific Insights