A valuable collaboration between a health consumer organisation and a pharmaceutical company requires a strong relationship based on core principles such as independence, trust, fairness, openness, transparency, confidentiality and accountability.
Pharmaceutical companies and health consumer organisations are different types of organisations, so it is sensible to discuss the following key principles in detail before starting a collaboration. These standards should be met every step along the way.
Respect for independence
An effective working relationship brings independent parties with different skills together for a common purpose. Each party remains true to its purpose and expresses its views even when the other party doesn’t agree. Neither party should compromise the integrity or independence of the other.
While partners should follow the goals of mutual benefit and shared understanding, they should acknowledge that each will have different expectations. It is recommended to get independent legal advice before signing any agreement.
Achieving and maintaining public trust
A collaboration is most successful when healthcare consumers and the community trust that the aim of the relationship is to deliver the best possible health outcomes. It is therefore important that when a health consumer organisation and pharmaceutical company collaborate, they consider how to avoid any perception that one party has unfairly or inappropriately influenced or compromised the other.
As collaborations are often between organisations with different levels of resources, it is important that financial imbalances are dealt with appropriately to avoid any financial or other coercion. This is fundamental to achieving and maintaining public trust. The collaboration should be open and publicly transparent. It should be declared, in forms appropriate to different audiences, while still retaining the privacy entitlements of the parties involved.
For a collaboration to be successful, from the outset partners should be direct and honest about what they hope to achieve. They should be clear about their expected roles and responsibilities, and any constraints that might limit their ability to perform them. Other relationships that may be relevant to or impact the collaboration should be declared in accordance with anti-bribery and corruption legislation as well as Competition and Consumer law.
Each partner in the relationship should always feel free to raise issues and speak openly, and should not feel pressured by the other partner. Fairness is essential during the negotiations to establish the relationship, throughout the relationship, and at the completion of the relationship.
It is important to agree at the start on how each partner will be acknowledged throughout the collaboration. Acknowledgement can take many forms, such as written acknowledgements in educational resources, websites and annual reports. Any pharmaceutical companies that are Medicines Australia members are required to provide information regarding any formal relationships with health consumer organisations for publication on the website under a provision of the Code of Conduct. Participating health consumer organisations should be aware that details of sponsorships will be publically disclosed, including monetary values.
When the goal of a collaboration is to create physical materials, such as educational resources, both partners need to agree beforehand on the ownership of the resources and who will hold intellectual property. For example, if a patient booklet is developed, the health consumer organisation and the pharmaceutical company should agree on the rights to its ongoing use, future reprints and so on.
In addition, appropriate arrangements to bring the relationship to a close should be part of any agreement to work together.
The partners in a relationship must respect the confidentiality and privacy of the relationship in accordance with existing legislation and regulation.
A significant benefit of collaboration is that pharmaceutical companies and health consumer organisations can share scientific data and other information that is not publicly available. Some of this material may be ‘commercial in confidence’. Before entering into a relationship, all partners should agree on which information is to be shared, the terms under which it will be shared, and how security and privacy will be protected.
Because accountability is critical to a successful collaboration, a health consumer organisation and a pharmaceutical company should demonstrate that the resources they contributed have been used appropriately and that agreed outcomes have been achieved.
In a relationship between a health consumer organisation and a pharmaceutical company there are many stakeholders – that is, individuals and groups who have an interest in the outcome. These include: the partners themselves, governments, current and potential users of medicines, shareholders in the pharmaceutical company and, indirectly, all Australian health consumers. A health consumer organisation and a pharmaceutical company may consider appropriate methods for reporting the results of their relationship to the key stakeholders and the wider Australian community.
As per the Medicines Australia Code of Conduct, pharmaceutical companies that are Medicines Australia members are required to adhere to the obligations included.
Accountability requires effort, so some time should be spent carefully considering the actions each partner will take to remain accountable.