Expert: Building Trust is Crucial to Successful Drug Development and Marketing

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The COVID-19 pandemic revealed some of the major gaps in trust in the United States, but Johnson said pharmacists are key to improving it.

In an interview with Pharmacy Times at the 2023 Asembia Specialty Pharmacy Summit, Elizabeth Johnson, LPN, chief executive officer at MedicoCX, discussed why trust is the crucial missing ingredient throughout much of drug development and marketing. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed some of the major gaps in trust in the United States, but Johnson said pharmacists are key to improving it.

Q: The COVID-19 pandemic really revealed how important trust in health care is, and how there are significant gaps in this trust. In your view, why is this trust so essential?

Elizabeth Johnson, LPN: Yeah, I think COVID-19 really shined a different light on trust with patients and with health care providers, and it's still ongoing, right? We see it in the news every day, you know, oh, the federal government's now rolling back vaccine mandates and things are changing. And so that trust tends to get shaken. So, the importance of quality medical information, of partnerships and collaboration, is really what health care needs going forward. So, this trust component, right, str you kind of putting in, really, blind faith more so than trust? I think 1, it's been highlighted, but 2 going forward, I think it's tarnished a little bit. So, organizations are going to have to work double time to fix it. But it's not unrepairable, right? Like, there's going to be a path forward, and I think patients are now tuned in more to health care than they've ever been before. So those relationships are great to start.

Q: Trust is not something we typically think of in the context of drug development and marketing, though it comes to mind more with drug delivery. How is trust exhibited in development and marketing and why is it necessary there?

Elizabeth Johnson, LPN: I think it's a big missing piece. So, in research and development, including patients, including your end user or your end consumer—right, health care is a is a consumer business, evidently. So, involving patients sooner so that they're a part of the process beyond clinical trials, right? If you're in a trial, make sure you're part of the marketing when it releases, but, you know, is it going to be infusion, injection, oral, having that feedback early on is essential. And when we look at going into the marketing side of it, pre-launch and after a drug is launched, having a patient kind of as your spokesperson, as your poster child, whatever you want to call it, makes it relatable to other people who are going to be taking the drug. So, I think it's absolutely to build that trust, to build that comfort, to build that relationship with providers, having a patient face, it's exactly what we need.

Q: What efforts are pharmaceutical companies and other stakeholders making to build this trust?

Elizabeth Johnson, LPN: Yeah, so in the last couple of years, we've seen this new initiative with advocacy. So, a lot of manufacturers are creating advocacy divisions that are more patient-focused and more friendly to relationships in the industry. So, you see nonprofit organizations, as well as other quality organizations coming to the table to support different initiatives. You also see manufacturers doing patients speaker programs and highlighting that patient journey more.

Q: One challenge with building trust in health care is that much of this information is highly complex. Can you discuss how to manage this issue and build trust?

Elizabeth Johnson, LPN: I think one of the things we fail at as health care, just in general, is that we tend to make things on an eighth-grade reading level, right? But that still doesn't help understand these complex pieces. So, we need to shift that and change it and make it relational. And not just relational in an English language, it needs to be in multiple languages, so that patients can have access to that. And in terms that aren't strict formal English, right? Grammar is important, but being able to appeal to all of the different dialects, different ways people speak. That's really where we need help. So, as you know, you and I are having a conversation or as someone else having a conversation, that's how we absorb and retain info. And that's how we need to deliver these messages and this information instead.

Q: As the most accessible health care providers, how can pharmacists help build patient trust in the drug development and delivery process?

Elizabeth Johnson, LPN: Pharmacists are the backbones of health care. So as a nurse, there's all kinds of memes that you see on the internet that's like, waiting for the pharmacist to fill your orders and do all these things. I'm a big proponent of a nurse–pharmacist relationship, because while it's my job to protect the patient, it's also the pharmacist’s job. But if we can communicate and work together, that's going to overcome something that is just lingering out there. So, a doctor says, “I want this,” it's my job to put in those orders to get them. The pharmacist then fills them and then I administer. And pharmacists can do so many things. Talk about retail pharmacy, [it’s] a totally different story. One, pharmacists are short staffed, overworked, you know, we've got our own pharmacy problems there. But patients, especially with community pharmacies, it's like their primary care. They see the same faces, they say hello, being there for the patient. And, you know, not just offering, “Do you want to speak to the pharmacist today?” But a pharmacist saying hello, a pharmacist being there, really engages that patient. So, I wish I could give pharmacists a million more hours in a day to be able to engage with patients. But yeah, I think that constant steady presence, it's a huge, huge thing.

Q: Is there anything you want to add?

Elizabeth Johnson, LPN: Sure. I think, kind of, the sum of this patient trust and health care, I think it's been a topic for forever. I think we're finally able to address it in different ways now, [with] budgets and marketing and all of these things. I think bringing that patient back to the center, we're all patients, but bringing the experience and the survivorship back really will make a difference going forward.

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