Well, that was quick! No, we’re not talking about the weekend…we’re talking about the three-day government shutdown. Two days after being up and running again, the Senate confirmed Alex Azar as the new Health and Human Services Secretary.

Also this week, Philadelphia became the first city to plan and support the opening of safe injection sites for drug use under medical supervision. While the long-term goal for the sites is to facilitate users entering into treatment and recovery programs—the more immediate goal is to protect against deaths due to overdose. Philadelphia saw 1,200 deaths to overdose in 2017 alone.

Of course, we have more news and views for you, so grab your coffee and hold on tight to your Nutella toast. This is The Week That Was...


We’ll be honest: the TWTW team has been holding back on weighing in on the confusing, dangerous and downright odd viral trend that is the “Tide Pod Challenge.” It seemed to us that there wasn’t much to debate about people filming themselves eating Tide Pods. Same with P&G’s initial response, which was firm but brief; the company issued statements including: "The 'laundry packet challenge' is neither funny nor without serious health implications," and “nothing is more important to us than the safety of people who use our products." But the longevity of this trend forced P&G to take additional action.

P&G’s initial response was straightforward and restrained and the company didn’t reiterate the name of the challenge or implicated product (“single load laundry packet” instead of “Tide Pod”). But, as the trend continued, P&G has taken bolder, proactive steps to warn against ingesting the detergent, including a blog post from the CEO and a video warning from New England Patriot Rob Gronkowski. And now P&G is getting back-up from some heavyweight third-party validators: the American Association of Poison Control Centers has released multiple warnings to consumers. Facebook and YouTube have been taking down the “challenge” videos and Amazon stated that they’ll be removing Tide Pod reviews that recommend people ingest them. Nevertheless, the challenge remains a stain P&G can’t quite get out.


If we had to put our money on a trend that would continue for 2018, it would be this. No, not the Tide Pod challenge itself. Rather: how do companies take responsibility when people misuse or abuse their products? In healthcare, this is a front-and-center issue in the pain-management space. Drug makers have been largely blamed for the opioid addiction, with marketing practices being challenged. Yet, there is a real question about how companies can find balance between providing a product, or in this case a medicine, that some people truly need and can benefit from them, while putting safeguards and restrictions in place to minimize the abuse potential. Another recent example: some activist Apple investors demand the company put new safeguards in place to protect children from negative effects of technology.

So where does that leave companies? Regardless of little control it has over the end-users, a company can’t sit idle when people are being harmed—or harming themselves—with its products. Companies that find themselves in the middle of controversies of safety or well-being need to be proactive. Reassert safe and appropriate use of the product. Provide information and resources on the company or product website. And consider reaching out to third-party advocates and validators to help communicate warnings and share guidelines about safe use.


Two national newspapers reminded us last week that good healthcare requires more than medicine, it also relies upon TRUST. The Wall Street Journal dove into a sensitive conundrum facing many hospital providers: patients who reject the care of physicians based on factors relating to race, gender, ethnicity, and religion. While discrimination is despicable in any forum, just imagine the ethical, legal and practical challenges facing hospitals when an urgently ill patient refuses a physician’s treatment for such reasons.

Patients don’t have a right to handpick their doctors, but a patient can refuse treatment for any reason, thereby creating an untenable ultimatum for many providers. Hospitals are seeking to address such situations by clarifying policies and initiating simulations to help physicians navigate such loaded situations.

Meanwhile, an opinion column in the New York Times spoke to how a degradation of trust in American institutions has infiltrated medicine. In 1966, more than 75% of Americans had confidence in medical leaders, but the Times reports that today, only 34% do. The trend is concerning, because an untrusting patient is less likely to follow their doctor’s guidance.


Despite having one of the world’s most expansive and sophisticated healthcare systems, we ironically have less trust in it than other developed countries have for their respective systems. The loss of faith in institutions matters for life science companies, too. If a patient doesn’t trust their doctor or hospital, they are less likely to take a vaccine, enroll in a clinical trial, or fill their prescription. Trust is hard won and easily lost, but we recommend that transparent communications, delivered in clear and resonant language is a fundamental building block – whether you’re a doc or a pharmaco.


This week, STAT reported on a new Wells Fargo analysis “that discounts offered last year by drug makers averaged more than 40% of list prices, up from 28% in 2012.” That sounds like good news, right? Not exactly. The piece suggests that deep discounts are the result of drug makers setting high list prices to maintain margins while remaining competitive through deep discounts to PBMs. So while that might seem like an “everybody wins” scenario, it’s actually not. Patient insurance co-payments are linked to list price, so patients are missing out on the discounts and feeling the pinch at the pharmacy counter.


Like all other pieces of the pricing debate, finding a solution that works for everyone seems next to impossible. So what’s different about this latest story? It suggests that drug makers may start to lobby for co-pays based on the discount prices of drugs, not the list price. This could prove a turning point in the drug pricing conversation, and regardless of outcome, the efforts of drug makers to advocate for patients to share in the discounts could help curry favor with the public.

Until next week,   

- the Reputation & Risk Management Practice @ Syneos Health Communications 

About the Author:

We are a team of healthcare communicators, policy-shapers and crisis response specialists. Drawing upon professional experiences from Congress, CMS, HHS, hospitals, and health technology—and our collective work in rare disease, oncology, diabetes, gene therapy, pain management and infectious disease—we provide unique solutions to the evolving messaging challenges in today’s healthcare industry. We support our clients with evidence-based approaches to preventing pricing pushback, protecting brands from modern activism, establishing and communicating clear policies surrounding expanded access to medicines, and a proactive approach to value frameworks. Our offerings also include product safety, litigation, regulatory risks, ex-U.S. considerations and policymaker investigations.