Monday 23 April 2018

He who giveth… Trust and its impact on the Australian health sector

Professor John Toohey from RMIT’s Graduate School of Business & Law refers to it as ‘default trust’ and upon reflection on this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer data, I believe that it is one of the most critical risks that Australian not for profits, and their business world partners face over the coming years.

It’s a philosophical concept, but essentially, default trust is that innate need by humans to ‘want’ to trust or in religious cases, the ‘want’ to believe. It is our ability to seek out the goodness in other humans or organisations without questioning it. We’ve all met (perhaps you are?) the kind of person that says to you ‘When I meet a person, they have to lose my trust, not earn it.’

So let’s set the scene.

We’re currently experiencing one of our most turbulent political climates in years and as a result, this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer has shown that government and government officials, perhaps not surprisingly, has taken a trust tumble of 5 per cent down to 47 per cent.

Alongside this drop in trust of Government, trust in business (57 per cent) and media (43 per cent) are on the increase, with NGOs sitting steady at the top of the pops on 65 per cent.

Importantly, when it comes to trusted individuals, the big winners this year were ‘people like me’, NGO representatives and ‘regular employees’ with increases of 31 per cent, 18 per cent and 17 per cent respectively. So essentially the data is telling us that in 2012 we trust our mates, those people who are most like us, and those organisations who exist to do good things for no profit.

But what does this mean for the pharma sector?

Well for one, it means that the role of Health Consumer Organisation (HCO) engagement is more important than ever.

Remember in September 2011 when Carol Bennett from the Consumer Health Forum proudly announced that following discussions between the Prime Minister, the CHF and industry representatives, the Government had agreed that all the medicines deferred by Cabinet would be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme? If not, here’s the release.

Anyone who has worked in the pharma space for more than a week will tell you that rule number one, when building your communications strategy around medicines new or old is effective stakeholder management.

During a period where the Government has rejected the reimbursement proposals for more medicines than many in the pharma sector would like to remember, with this year’s rise in trust of ‘people like me’ or similarly ‘patients like me’ and steady levels of trust in HCOs, stakeholder engagement has never been more vital.

What is also means is that for pharma companies to be truly effective in delivering health products and services, they need to review their engagement strategies for HCOs and the vehicles they choose to engage through.

If you’ve taken a close look at the Trust Barometer data you may have also been surprised to hear that trust in media has increased.  We’ve put this down to an increasing diversification in media options, so where people may have not previously trusted media, the simple fact that they can now choose more freely where they get their news from, has resulted in an increase of Trust.

This is really nicely demonstrated in almost a doubling of the level of trust in social media from 7 per cent to 13 per cent over the last 12 months. It is also an area that Australian pharma has traditionally shied away from.

Australian HCOs have already cottoned on to this trend and are mobilising to use social media to communicate with their members and other stakeholders and now we see Facebook, Twitter and online forums blossoming in key disease areas such as diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease – the list goes on.

Australian patients in various disease states trust their HCO to deliver them credible and relevant information pertaining to their disease. They also trust one another to discuss key issues in these forums.

The challenge for pharma is recognising how to engage in this space, building a framework for engagement, and using this framework to deliver mutually beneficial results for all parties. This has been done quite successfully over the last five years through the Working Together document developed by Medicines Australia and the Consumer Health Forum, however this document is just the start of the journey. With the advent of digital patient engagement through social media channels, the game has changed and to survive the entire health sector needs to closely review this option.

Getting back to default trust…

While reduced trust in government is in contrast to steadily increasing trust in NGOs, it is quite possible that through the concept of ‘default trust’, Australians’ disillusionment with Government has contributed trust of NGOs. That being, Australians are so disappointed with government that they are just begging to trust anyone with the most suitable candidate for this trust currently being is NGOs.

With trust comes responsibility. It’s the whole bigger they are, harder they fall issue.  While they trust and love you now, if you abuse that trust by disappointing your members and stakeholders, they will take that trust away. As Australian HCOs increase their levels of sophistication and build on their relationships with corporates and especially the pharma sector, they must keep this front of mind.

Similarly, as pharma and the corporate sector continue to build their relationships with HCOs, recognition of the fine trust line must be at the foundation of partnerships and while it might sound  like community engagement 101, it’s those ‘people like me’ who make up the majority of those HCO members that will make the difference between success and failure.


- Will Collie, Director Healthcare

  • Kristina Thomas

    The Working Together Guide is a great model that has seen fantastic results for the consumer, great work! Another key part of the trust barometer was happy staff and it’s a shame that, at present, there are only a few key staff who are privileged to be part of the collaboration. As MA moves to engage staff on their messaging and take pride in their industry, wouldn’t it be wonderful to open up new avenues to those not directly involved yet? 

    Volunteering has been a proven method for increasing staff engagement when done right and there’s no reason why it can’t include HCO’s. For Pharma, allowing all levels of staff the opportunity to ‘work together’ could benefit a wider range of people and boost those happy staff numbers, not to mention enhanced reputation and attracting key talent.  

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