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When Does False Perception Become Reality?

One of the most debated topics at last week's AdvaMed annual meeting was the publicity hit the device industry has taken from some high-profile recalls and adverse events in the past year. Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll, presented a poll showing that about 70% of consumers think medical technology companies do a good job of serving their customers. Their work has created an almost uniformly positive impression, and the value their products bring is appreciated.

(Cost issues are the one negative.) But Taylor cautioned that the fate that has befallen the pharmaceutical industry could strike devices as well. Pharma went from a "good job" rating of 79% in 1997 to 44% in 2005. And the seeds are there for an approval drop for medical OEMs. Only 26% of the general public believes that the device industry is effective at communicating important health care issues. Only 21% say they would give it the benefit of the doubt if it came under media pressure. Only 20% believe industry accepts accountability for its actions. This perception has to change. At the end of the event, a panel of FDA and industry leaders discussed this very issue. One of the things agreed upon was that, while covering up adverse events is wrong, so too is releasing information when not enough facts are known about the overall problem. This could cause an unsubstantiated media frenzy, which, given the perceptions that already exist, could destroy consumer confidence in devices. We don't need a repeat of what's happened to Big Pharma.

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