Why trust and reputation are so important in health

Reputation: Slow to change but quick to destroy. Difficult to define yet easy to generalise. I’m talking of course about reputation, something I believe is increasingly important in healthcare in Ireland, writes Aidan Lynch, General Manager and Vice President, GSK.

Aidan Lynch, General Manager and Vice President, GSK Pharma Ireland
Aidan Lynch, General Manager and Vice President, GSK Pharma Ireland

The most common denominator GSK and the health service share is patients – it is critical that patients have trust in their health service and medicines are a huge part of this.

For a long time, at GSK we only talked about our medicines and vaccines. But consider this, two-thirds of people’s willingness to say positive things about an organisation is influenced by their perception of them and only one-third by what they think of their actual products or services. It turns out that people care – a lot – about how organisations are run, what contribution they are making to society and what values they stand for.

Reputation is tricky as it’s a curious mix of reality and perception: for an industry like ours rooted in science, this can be a tough nettle to grasp. It can also be incredibly disheartening to read media commentary about your organisation that you know doesn’t reflect reality, something I’m sure many working within the health service have also experienced. For years now, healthcare companies have been all considered the same, as big, often bad, pharma. These days we are more often painted as the reason patients can’t access new medicines, rather than the reason those medicines exist.

These days we are more often painted as the reason patients can’t access new medicines, rather than the reason those medicines exist.

So what should we do, grumble? give up? When it comes to reputation, I believe we all need to step up, and speak out. Each of us are important players in the health ecosystem so its important we are all trusted so we need to be brave. At GSK, we are striving for change. In recent months at GSK we have expanded our digital channels, opened up an Irish GSK Twitter account and are using Linkedin to join, and start, conversations.

We also know actions speak louder than words: For nearly two years now, we have no longer financially incentivised our Medical Representatives for the number of prescriptions they generate individually. We have stopped paying doctors to speak on our behalf. For even longer, we have been publishing the results of every single clinical trial we conduct – good or bad. These are all bold steps GSK has taken to try and stop even the perception of a conflict of interest and we can see now that others are beginning to follow our lead.

The resource constraints in Irish healthcare, with our ageing and growing population, will only increase. Scientific discovery means that there will be treatment possibilities for patients in the future that we can only dream of today. To ensure patients can benefit from these, we will all need to work together to change. This will require a new spirit of flexibility and collaboration and this fundamentally cannot exist without trust. And trust is the bedrock of reputation. In the interest of patients, all stakeholders in health will need to continue to work to improve their own reputations, and our trust in each other.