“Disease mongering” is a term that was coined by the late journalist Lynn Payer to describe what she saw as the confluence of interests by some doctors, drug companies, patient advocacy groups and media in exaggerating the severity of illness and the ability of drugs to “cure” them.

Disease Mongering -- Is it real or not?
The following examples of disease mongering were cited in the April, 2006 issue of PLoS:

  • Restless Leg Syndrome – Prevalence of rare condition exaggerated
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Promoted as a serious illness needing therapy, when usually a mild problem
  • Menopause – Too often medicalised as a disorder when really a normal part of life

The organization that hosted the Inaugural Conference on Disease Mongering, produced the following video and distributed it via YouTube. It’s quite well-done.

Sometimes, there is thin line between “disease mongering” and disease awareness advertising and PR (see, for example, “Disease Awareness or Disease Mongering?“).

“[Disease Mongering] is exemplified mostly explicitly by many pharmaceutical industry-funded disease awareness campaigns – more often designed to sell drugs than to illuminate or to inform or educate about the prevention of illness or the maintenance of health.” – PLoS

This past Tuesday, Neil H. Gray, Managing Partner, Healthcare Trends & Strategies, LLC, and I put together a “Point-Counterpoint” debate on the issues related to disease mongering and pharma credibility at the Patient Education and Disease Awareness Summit in Philadelphia. Neil and I have discussed this topic before in a Pharma Marketing Talk podcast, which you can listen to here.

For the Summit audience, we decided to take opposite sides to debate several questions, including:

  • Is it a real issue?
  • Lack of blockbuster drugs in pipeline a factor?
  • Influence of DTC advertising
  • Impact on pharma credibility

You can find more details in the PPT presentation here.

One of the main tenets of disease mongering is that pharmaceutical companies are putting sales potential & profit before patient health when deciding what drugs to develop. A recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers (“Recapturing the Vision: Restoring Trust in the Pharmaceutical Industry by Translating Expectations into Actions“) showed that consumers and pharmaceutical executives are far apart on what really motivates the drug industry. Take a look at the following chart prepared from survey data:

“Pharmaceutical companies need to demonstrate a better balance of their primary healthcare mission with their fiduciary obligation to shareholders through patient-focused behavior. Research has shown that a 5 percent positive change in corporate reputation translates into a 3 percent to 5 percent positive change in market capitalization.” — Peter Claude, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences Advisory Services Group

Disease mongering may be just one more nail in the coffin of pharma credibility, but it will become a more important factor as the industry adapts to weak pipelines for new innovative drugs and must find new indications for old drugs.

I am interested in your opinion. Please take my survey. After completing the survey you will be able to see a summary of results (de-identified, excludes open-ended responses and comments that may identify the respondent). You can also use filters to examine results from different subsets of respondents (e.g., pharma company employees vs. non-pharma people, etc.).

Disease Mongering -- Is it real or not?