by Michel Ballieu

The move to financial transparency must not be allowed to damage the reputation of healthcare professionals and healthcare organisations. To avoid this, the pharma industry must make the public aware of the pivotal role that its relationship with clinicians has in developing new medicines. The communications campaign should be overseen jointly by the medical profession and the industry, says Michel Ballieu, CEO of the European CanCer Organisation

In common with many other medical organisations, the European CanCer Organisation (ECCO) has long upheld transparency as a central principle, disclosing any potential conflicts of interest and the names of its sponsors.

michelballieu“In Belgium, as in other countries, everything is clear; it is in the accounts, which are publicly displayed on the national bank’s web site” says Michel Ballieu, CEO of ECCO.

But while having no doubts about the importance of transparency, Ballieu is worried that EFPIA’s move to publish details of individual payments and transfers of value could undermine patients’ confidence in the healthcare profession.

For pharma, disclosure is seen as a way to re-establish its standing in the eyes of the general public. While the industry has often been its own worst enemy, there is much exaggeration by the media which obscures the good things that pharma does. “In France, for example, if the perception is that one thing is not right, then nothing is right,” Ballieu says.

The danger is that in seeking to improve its reputation, the pharma industry places the healthcare profession in the firing line instead. To ensure this reputational damage does not happen to practitioners, EFPIA needs to think carefully about how it communicates the message about financial disclosure, Ballieu believes.

Accessing expertise

“There is a relationship: the medical profession has knowledge pharma doesn’t have, and has contacts with patients. It’s important pharma has access to such expertise, and there’s a cost to doing this,” Ballieu said. But, he adds, talking about the cost should come after talking about the relationship. “There should be more discussion of the importance of the relationship itself, as opposed to the financial relationship underpinning it.”

Ballieu proposes a joint committee between EFPIA and representatives of medical associations representing different specialties, to build a communications campaign. While it is important to talk to doctors, as EFPIA is doing, it is imperative to get the message across to 500 million citizens, he says. The aim should be to explain the value of the relationship to the general public, and to ensure the public understands why this needs to be supported by transfers of financial value.

The message needs to be put across by the medical profession and the pharma industry together. “This is critical, because it is imperative that the move to financial disclosure is done in such a way that it does not affect the reputation of healthcare professionals and healthcare organisations that are the recipients of these payments,” Ballieu concludes.

Michel Ballieu joined ECCO – the European CanCer Organisation – in 2006 as Chief Executive Officer, overseeing a team of 26 professionals in scientific educational programmes, in congress management, in communication, and in policy and regulators awareness campaigns. As a volunteer he serves as a Board member of the European Cervical Cancer Association (ECCA), as a Board member of the ecancermedicalscience Foundation (ecms), and as Past-President of the Association’s Conferences Forum (AC Forum).