Pharmaceutical companies should be looking to invest in public health campaigns as a way to improve trust in the industry and help with the challenges facing healthcare systems, a new report suggests.

The study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, commissioned by Digitas Health Europe, questioned 450 healthcare professionals in Europe, Latin America, China and India and found that 32.4% believed investing in public health campaigns was a key role for pharma.

Indeed, according to the survey, 95% of respondents said awareness campaigns to encourage people to take better care of their own health were considered a valuable aspect of the industry. Likewise, 80.7% of those surveyed agreed there was too much reliance placed on drug treatments and not enough on encouraging people to live healthy lifestyles.

Other survey results found that 68% of healthcare professionals rated chronic metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, as their country’s leading health challenge, ahead of ageing populations (34.4%), infectious diseases (25.8%), accidents (24.9%) and drug and alcohol abuse (23%). Meanwhile, the biggest challenge to the countries’ healthcare systems overall was lack of funding, the HCPs said.

Senior players in the pharma industry were also interviewed for the research and they acknowledged long-term chronic diseases as the illnesses of the future, adding that moving forward, companies will need to show they can help patients manage these diseases, rather than simply selling drug treatments.

Besides investing in public health campaigns, HCPs said other key roles pharma could take on in addressing healthcare challenges included: offering cheaper drugs (59.1%), developing new drugs for unmet medical need (32.6%), improving existing drugs (30.9%), improvements in the availability and supply of drugs (24.5%), tailoring drug treatments for specific patients (20.8%), and providing information and services to physicians (20.8%). 

Iain Scott, managing editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said the research clearly showed the issues the industry faced. “There’s also a clear indication of where pharma companies ought to place themselves. Doctors value the information they receive from drug firms and they see a big role for pharma in helping take some pressure off healthcare systems by supporting public health campaigns.”

June Dawson, managing director of Digitas Health Europe, said the findings were opportunities for those in the pharma industry to look at more innovative ways to help healthcare professionals address the healthcare challenges. Patient support programmes which help with behavioural change along with public awareness programmes could form part of the solution, she added.

Going digital

Digital communications and the new challenges this medium caused were also discussed in the survey. According to the results, digitally delivered information from pharma companies was considered valuable by 74.2% of HCPs but only 26.7% said they would prefer to receive information about new treatments from pharma companies via the internet, compared with 35.7% saying they preferred independent sources on the internet. Meanwhile, 67.3% of HCPs agreed companies were better than they used to be at delivering services and information via the internet and digital technology. And despite the rise in digital, seeing a sales rep was still seen as valuable by HCPs with 50% of physicians saying they regard rep visits as more valuable that other pharma marketing strategies.

“Digital is not just another channel,” said Bruce Grant, senior vice president and strategic services at Digitas Health. “Digital is more an exchange. We are bidding for the attention of our customers therefore we have to understand what our customers want… Pharma will never be the only voice in the conversation but we need to be a credible voice,” he added.