Why Sponsored Content Erodes Patient Trust


‘Free’ patient education from manufacturers comes at a cost

Health care has a trust problem. Recent data shows patient trust in the health care industry is declining, according to Modern Healthcare. There are many reasons for this, including rising out-of-pocket costs for patients, shorter office visits with doctors under pressure to see more patients, and physician conflicts of interest. News stories such as the $145 million fine imposed on software company Practice Fusion for a kickback scheme that pushed doctors to overprescribe opioids certainly aren’t helping the problem.

 “Physicians have a steeper hill to climb in establishing trust,” said Dr. Richard Baron, CEO of the American Board of Internal Medicine and the ABIM Foundation, in Modern Healthcare. “They are confronting more skepticism.”

Trust is a big issue that can affect patient outcomes and practices’ bottom lines. As we discussed in a recent post, lack of trust is the #2 reason patients will leave a practice and find another doctor. Your patient education is one area where you can either erode or build trust. Are you choosing yours wisely? 

The physician-pharma relationship

The days are over when pharma reps would shower doctors with pricey dinners and gifts in the hopes of influencing their prescribing behaviors. And so are the days when patients were unaware of the relationships between physicians and pharmaceutical companies. 

This is due in part to initiatives such as the Physician Payments Sunshine Act and the corresponding Open Payments database created by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which were “designed to increase transparency around the financial relationships between physicians, teaching hospitals and manufacturers of drugs, medical devices and biologics,” according to U.S. News & World Report.

That’s why it’s critically important to be aware of patient perceptions of any promotional content you might use. Be wary of marketing messaging that may be perceived as promoting a particular drug or device rather than purely educational content. 

Patients have greater awareness of the relationships between doctors and drug and medical device manufacturers, and recognize that this does influence doctors’ prescribing habits.

These days, a typical relationship might be a pharma rep dropping off lunch and some pamphlets about a new drug or treatment at your practice once a month. Does this influence your prescribing behavior? And does it matter for patient health? It might, said Ian Larkin, associate professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, who has researched how pharmaceutical companies influence doctors’ prescribing habits, in U.S. News.

In a recent JAMA study, Larkin and his team found that when gifts (even lunch) were removed from the equation, “there were reductions in the proportion of branded [versus generic] drugs prescribed after the pharmaceutical detailer couldn’t give gifts anymore. We think it’s pretty clean evidence that the gifts actually influence doctors,” he says.

Determining whether there’s harm to patients from pharma marketing tactics is still unclear. Answering this question is “the holy grail for research and practice” in this area, Larkin said. “Branded drugs can cost 10 times what the generic form costs, so when a doctor prescribes branded drugs as a result of pharmaceutical detailing, an argument could be made that there’s a harm to the patient,” according to U.S. News. And are you hurting your patients’ trust in you in the process?

The case for high-quality, branded content from your practice

It seems obvious that educational materials provided by a pharma company or medical device manufacturer would not be 100% unbiased. And it’s also understandable how patients might perceive sponsored patient education or advertisements to be biased. Do you want patients wondering whether your motives are pure or whether you’re trying to make a profit off them? Why risk eroding patient trust with free content when better solutions exist? 

Eye doctors, for instance, instead of showing patients promotional videos provided by lens manufacturers, can show them this video that explains their IOL options. All Rendia videos can be branded with your practice’s name, further establishing you as a trusted provider of high-quality, unbiased patient education. An added benefit is that you can customize playlists for your waiting room, showing patients only the content you want them to see. 

Why risk eroding patient trust with free, sponsored educational content when better solutions exist that can enhance your practice’s reputation?

 Researchers at Rendia conducted a randomized study to evaluate whether the type of educational materials impacts patients’ perceptions, attitudes, and intended health behaviors. The study found that patients who received narrated animations from their doctors, such as Rendia videos, rated them 6 times easier to understand, 5.3 times as engaging, and 1.2 times more trustworthy than text-based materials. Moreover, patients who received narrated animations were more likely to feel as though their provider cared about them, continue to seek care from that provider, and recommend them to others. 

To read more about how providers are working to improve trust with patients, check out our post on facilitating shared decision-making between patients and providers.

Want to explore content that enhances your patient education process? Watch some of our sample videos.

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