I read this statement about the pharmaceutical industry in the media yesterday and it literally stopped me mid sentence. I have seen the same sentiment uttered so many times over the years, in lots of situations and forums by pharma executives and employees alike.
But, for some reason, it really struck me yesterday. Why is this being said so often? Who is this directed at? What is the purpose?
And when I thought about it a bit more I realized that I have not seen other industries and companies saying this sort of thing. It is a given, companies exist to make money. That is the natural result of doing what they do, what they are entitled to do.
We understand this.
So why does pharma so often reach for this tired justification?
You can see it in a variety of contexts but probably most often springing up when pricing or drug costs are discussed. No surprise there, but also when innovation such as Value Added Services, Patient Centricity or Beyond the Pill are discussed as well.
It really is a terrific statement that is an effective debate stifler, but, as I said earlier, I am not sure who it is aimed at convincing.
For me, it seems particularly effective in internal communications, when the company is justifying it’s position and wants to communicate to its own people that one of the reasons for this decision is that the company needs to make a profit. Employees understand that if the company is not profitable then their jobs and livelihoods are at risk.
But beyond internal use I’m not so clear; it seems to be used mostly as a conversation stopper. Who can argue that any company needs to make a profit, but it is not very specific and it is very hard to refute.
In the on going argument about drug pricing it is sometimes used to justify the price, but it hardly addresses the issue from a customers’ perspective. It’s more than a bit dismissive in fact and if the objective is to stop discussion I would have to say it is effective. But. And it’s a big but, managing feedback from customers about cost is an important topic that deserves a serious response.
Of course a company can charge whatever it wants for its products. They have that right, but customers have the right to complain and to not buy the product if they so choose. Of course in healthcare it is not so easy, but customers should speak up about unreasonable pricing and they should demand, and receive a serious response that enables them to make an evaluation based on all the facts.
Pharma needs to take responsibility for the lack of trust that is so rampant among its stakeholders and customers. The lack of transparency breeds lack of trust and when sentiments like the one above are used to justify drug pricing then the industry needs to take the feedback on the chin and actively do something to address this very common concern.
Either they can clearly demonstrate the value of their products or they can’t. Simple.
But to see it so often brings to mind the famous quote from Hamlet “Methinks the lady doth protest too much”.