July 15th, 2020

Why healthcare companies should build relationships with health consumer organisations

Healthcare is about changing people’s lives. Companies in this industry may be creating ground-breaking therapies or medical technologies. However, failing to connect with the end consumers can be detrimental. There is often a challenging ‘language’ barrier to surmount between the healthcare company and the person benefiting from the therapy. Although essential, the requirements in place to guide healthcare company communications to consumers may prove hard to navigate. Building relationships with health consumer organisations (HCOs) can help to build a bridge between industry and advocates.


Why healthcare companies should partner with health consumer organisations


Firstly, building relationships with HCOs connects industry with the patient community. The company is contributing to supporting the disease area and awareness activities. HCOs conduct surveys, campaigns, and have access to data and resources that are not at arm’s reach for healthcare companies. Because the HCO knows their audience very well, establishing contact with an organisation can educate the sponsor on what types of communications and messaging is well-received by the community.

It is a genuine way to learn more about the authentic experience of patients. Discovering what matters most to them.

In healthcare communications, a patient story is essential to build trust with the audience. It can be challenging to access patients legally and ethically without help from a HCO.

HCOs may also involve industry partners in activities and events for their members. These are a good setting to meet the people who benefit from the hard work of your company.

Secondly, HCO partnerships are an opportunity to collaborate on activities directed at healthcare professionals (HCPs). Some HCOs involve industry sponsors in developing educational content for HCPs. Others put partner companies in the spotlight of their marketing materials. HCO-run events for HCPs are a chance for sponsors to take part as exhibitors or by delivering presentations. Overall, it is a win-win networking opportunity for both the HCO and the industry partner.

Finally, it is a strategic alliance that positions the company as a leader in the therapy area. The partnership establishes the company and its products as trusted by the HCO. By establishing a relationship with a HCO, the healthcare company keeps their finger on the pulse of the therapy area.


Working well with health consumer organisations


The Medicines Australia Working Together guide establishes key principles that both the HCO and pharmaceutical industry sponsors need to follow for a positive and beneficial relationship. According to the guide, companies can build relationships with HCOs to enhance the quality use of medicines and to support better health outcomes for Australians. Companies should consider, on a case-by-case basis, whether any offer or proposal to sponsor or fund a HCO or any of its programs is capable of withstanding professional and public scrutiny. The selection criteria for sponsorship to enable patients and representatives from a HCO to attend third-party scientific and medical conferences should be based on their specific interest in a therapeutic area.

Sophie Hibburd, Director of Ethics and Compliance at Medicines Australia said: “Our code of conduct has been around for 60 years. Over the years it’s evolved from a very detailed prescriptive code to a very principle-based code. It sets a standard of high ethical behaviour in the industry. It encourages an open relationship between companies and HCOs to positively influence healthcare outcomes for Australians.

“Companies can find a lot of really valuable information, guidance, and support that they wouldn’t get elsewhere. However, the relationship has to be purely educational and supportive. Patients are central to decision-making, and industry should be involved in those conversations to understand the impact of their products.

“The pharmaceutical industry is held to a high standard because what we make has a huge and vast impact on the lives of Australian patients.”


The types of partnerships between industry companies and HCOs 


One-time project. One-off projects usually involve a donation, sponsorship or educational grant to a HCO to conduct a specific activity.

Long-term relationships. Longer-term relationships are a partnership in which a healthcare company and a HCO work together on areas of mutual interest. Both partners make contributions to the relationship (funding, sharing information, education, training and support). The partners bring different strengths to achieve goals that might be out of reach if they worked on their own.


The bottom line


Catherine Whelan, Strategic Partnerships Manager for Asthma Australia, said: “Partnerships are really important for HCOs. With appropriate support from industry sponsors, we are able to disseminate messages about patient safety and quality use of medications and organise for our members to be recruited into clinical trials.

“We act as a translator between industry and patients, as we are the peak consumer body, as such fostering strong relations with each. Patients will sometimes tell us things they don’t necessarily tell their HCP or the company.”

Some companies might worry that partnering with HCOs might be difficult or a waste of resources, as they might not receive the limelight that they would like through the HCO communications for the amount of commitment dedicated to this relationship. However, by not partnering with HCOs or at least building relationships with their members, the healthcare industry is missing out on opportunities. Gaining insight of the patient experience is vital in today’s healthcare communications. If you are not doing it well, your competitor is doing it better.


Read more about our work with an Australian health consumer organisation here.

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