What the record GSK fine should mean for the industry, and how digital health can help

By Spitz (@SpitzStrategy)

The unprecedented $3 billion penalty against GSK for alleged off-label marketing, deceptive data sharing, and physician gifting is already old news, but its repercussions throughout the industry and beyond are only beginning to reverberate.

Pundits across every color of the political, communications, and business spectrum have brightly weighed-in, opinions characterizing this landmark settlement in hues and views ranging from the irrelevant to the insufficient to the Earth-shattering.

Taking the Digital Health Pulse

Among digital health commentators the response has been similarly varied. Do you ever tweetchat? My current favorites are the #mhealth chat led by on Wednesday evenings at 9pm EST, and the legacy #hcsmeu chat every Friday morning at 7am.

Well last Friday’s #hcsmeu discussion addressed the potential impact this latest in a long series of record-breaking pharma fines might have on pharma communications, including higher-risk, lower-ROI ventures such as social media ‚ì and most of the responses surprised me.

The general opinion was that pharma efforts in social media and other forms of physician, patient, and caregiver engagement were too far removed from the penalty, no matter how large; and that the industry had dealt with similar and ongoing “cost of doing business” threats throughout its history.

I pressed the notion that pharma reputation, generally poor, indeed had an impact not only on business decisions, investor relations, and the like, but strongly influenced the industry’s willingness to accept the risks and take on the resourcing required for social media and similar activities in the space.

Challenges Begetting Opportunities

A few chatters such as @MaverickNY agreed that industry reputation ultimately reverberates through media, while @pharmaguy hinted at the age-old business truism that the best customer service experiences are often engendered through crisis and an effective follow up and fix.

With that spirit in mind, perhaps the most important question digital health communicators can now ask is: “How can a significant reputation management crisis in pharma be transformed into a fresh opportunity for transparency, honesty, and engagement?”

Complete openness is nonsense; filtering and selectivity are as much a part of interpersonal communication as they must be for high level corporate dialogue. Pharma has weathered similar PR storms, but might now be the time to elevate the conversation and engage the diverse audience on its own terms?

Opening Channels and Sharing Benefits

Although pharma has been plagued by challenges like all industries, it need not apologize for helping eradicate diseases and bettering the quality of life for millions. This recent chart reveals much about how modern medicine and pharma have tackled and conquered such pandemics as tuberculosis, diabetes, polio, and infection over the last century:


So how can the industry do a better job at sharing these and other benefits, while also addressing some of its problems and what they are actively doing to mitigate them? Now that the dialogue is already taking place, what role should be played to educate the public and professionals, and by whom?

Let’s Start the Conversation

We’d love to hear your thoughts on how emerging and exploding channels such as social and mobile can and should be used to heal wounds and share benefits.





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