The Sunshine Act will peek out from behind some, but not all, of the clouds on the horizon soon, leading to a new day in transparency on payments between the medical products industry and those who provide care. Data will be published by HHS on payments made to key stakeholders including physicians and teaching hospitals among others. Much has been written and much will be written. My own humble contribution has taken place from time to time looking at the issue here in this country and in France; looking at how the release of CMS data this Spring was covered by media as a proxy for what we might see on Sunshine coverage; and a Webinar that was held in June providing tips for preparing for the publication of the data from a communications point of view.
The time is near. For those who have procrastinated, here from the Webinar are a few of those observations and tips.
- The first wave of coverage will likely focus on the payments – how much went to where – with comparisons and rankings, the second wave may then focus on how well the implementation of the law is working, or not (reporting errors, e.g.);
- Focus may well be on which doctors received high levels of funding, which institutions and which companies paid the most, which parts of the medical profession received the most funding – and these stories will likely be on a national and regional/local level;
- Because of the connection with money – the skew is likely to be negative;
- Stakeholders will include teaching hospitals, non-teaching hospitals, physicians, research centers, medical societies, CMS and of course, patients.
- Messaging will be important for individual stakeholders, not just trade associations and groups and is best developed ahead of time and that takes into consideration not just what stakeholders feel a need to say, but what they think audiences – particularly patients – may want to hear;
- Understand ahead of time your stake – what are the characteristics and scope of your involvement – what is your individual story and assess strengths and vulnerabilities;
- Also understand that this is an opportunity to educate people about the relationships that exist so provide a comprehensive picture – don’t just respond to individual snippets of the story or the data – which will appear defensive;
- That said, be able to define the individual elements of those relationships – help media/people understand what the benefits are to scientific advisory boards, clinical trials, etc.
- Make sure internal stakeholders help devise messages to provide the most accurate messaging;
- Have materials ready – FAQ, Talk Points and Backgrounders to help convey the messaging.
With the potential holding back of some of the data, the resulting story may be even more confused than it would have otherwise been and may complicate the ability of media to cover the story of the data publication considerably. Good preparation will help mitigate some of that circumstance, particularly in messaging, that will allow individual stakeholders to help shape their story, rather than have the story shaped for them.