The Benefits of Balanced Conversations

I recently attended an event entitled “A Crisis of Trust: Pharma and Healthcare Beyond 2016”. It was a panel discussion which included representatives from healthcare associations, payers, the media, and academia. I was eagerly anticipating discussion of the reputational crises many pharmaceutical companies and the industry in general are facing, as well as conversation around what resulting changes we might expect in the industry as it moves ahead – beyond 2016 as the title of the event implied.

Unfortunately, what transpired was a quite unbalanced, and almost defensive, dialogue about why pharmaceutical companies should not be ‘scapegoated’ and solely blamed for the rising costs in healthcare that many of us are experiencing. Members of the panel, and even the audience, asked for a more ‘balanced’ discussion about rising health care costs, one that includes the full spectrum of factors driving cost, without simply singling out the pharmaceutical industry.

This request for more ‘balanced’ discussion really resonated with me, as I sat in the audience wishing that the panel itself was more balanced and representative of both sides of the healthcare discussion. As we know from years of persuasion research, two-sided arguments are more persuasive than those that are one-sided (O’Keefe, 1999). This long standing finding, from a meta-analysis of all the available studies shows that arguments that present both sides, that also refute the opposing views are the most persuasive. This exact approach – one that allowed panelists to present opposing views including counter-arguments was one I had been expecting and hoping for, as I was eager for that level of deeper dialogue.

To her credit, one academician on the panel, Dr. Ruth Lopert, from George Washington University School of Medicine and Milken Institute School of Public Health, did provide a counter point to the very pro-pharma perspectives that were being espoused. She made a plea for much more transparency on the part of pharmaceutical companies – not only in terms of sharing clinical data in the form of Comparative Effectiveness Research (CER) so consumers can make more informed decisions, but also by way of transparency into costs and financial data. While she received some level of support from the media representative on the panel – who took great pains to stay neutral – Dr. Lopert’s one perspective did not encourage the more robust and deep discussion I had been anticipating.

It is true that important questions were raised that morning – will a more competitive marketplace help costs decrease? Is there really the opportunity for true competition in the pharmaceutical marketplace as it currently exists? Does direct to consumer advertising help drive competition or does it over medicalize our society, drive aggressive prescribing, and prescribing particularly for the newest, most expensive drugs, and use fear to prey on people’s desperation? But the resulting discussion felt too skewed to allow for us to truly unpack these important questions that have very real implications for so many of us.

So, I am making the plea for a more balanced discussion as well. When we do explore crucial issues, like health care, I would argue that we owe ourselves a truly balanced discussion, where both sides of the argument are equally represented.

Trish Taylor, PhD,
Executive Vice President