Harris Poll: Only Nine Percent of U.S. Consumers Believe Pharma and Biotechnology Put Patients over Profits; Only 16 Percent Believe Health Insurers Do

While Only Slightly More Than One-Third of Consumers Believe Doctors and Nurses Put Patients Over Profits, They Are Seen as Likely Drivers of Health Care Industry Solutions – More So Than the Government, Insurance, Pharma/Biotechnology and Hospitals 

Americans Rank Ethics as a Top Factor to Solve Health Care Challenges

NEW YORK – Only nine percent of U.S. consumers believe pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies put patients over profits, while only 16 percent believe health insurance companies do, according to a Harris Poll study released today. Meanwhile, 36 percent of U.S. adults believe health care providers (such as doctors and nurses) put patients over profits, compared to hospitals (23%).

“We are in the midst of a health care maelstrom,” said Wendy Salomon, vice president of reputation management and public affairs at Nielsen. “Consumers see no safe port, no place where their interests are truly protected – and that lack of consumer trust is reflected in the reputational risk we see across the U.S. health care landscape.”

Additionally, the Harris Poll of more than 1,000 U.S. adults ages 18+ indicates that while most are

neutral toward health care industries, more consumers rate health insurance (24%) and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies (20%) with low reputations, compared to hospitals (6%), health care providers (doctors and nurses) (5%) and technology (2%). Fifty-eight percent rate the reputation of the technology industry as high, compared to health care providers (43%), hospitals (37%), pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies (20%), and health insurance companies (15%).

“There are undeniable reputational risks for pharmaceutical and health insurance companies – more so than other parts of the health care ecosystem,” said Salomon. “Reputation matters to patients, care providers, investors, employees, and potential hires. Positive reputations can pave the way in times of crisis, in times of transition – and when it’s critical to have a seat at the policy-setting table.”

Consumer Skepticism High Across Health Care – But to Varying Degrees

According to the Harris Poll Reputation Equity and Risk Across the Health Care Sector report, all health care stakeholders – hospitals, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, providers and store pharmacists – suffer from consumer skepticism, but some experience it to a greater degree.

Nearly half of consumers say they think store pharmacists (49%) and health care providers (48%) offer high quality products and services, compared to hospitals (44%), pharmaceutical companies (31%), and health insurance companies (26%). Roughly half of consumers believe providers (51%) and hospitals (49%) make a positive difference in the country, compared to store pharmacists (39%), health insurance companies (26%) and pharmaceuticals (26%).

“There’s a lot health care can improve, but we tend to paint the entire industry with a broad brush,” said Salomon. “The EpiPen controversy, Affordable Care Act challenges, the fall of Theranos, and the basic hassles inherent in navigating one’s health care needs – all of these contribute to consumers’ perceptions of the reputation of the health care system overall, but we need to remember that health care players are not viewed equally. While at times the pharmaceutical industry seems an easy target for criticism, it is stunning to see the little credit it receives for making a positive difference. There are real opportunities for companies across the health care landscape to proactively share their stories and engage in reducing reputational risk.”

Consumers See Providers, Patients Solving Health Care Challenges

When asked where solutions to the health care industry’s challenges will come from, more than half of U.S consumers (55%) say health care providers, such as doctors or nurses. Nearly half (47%) see patients and consumers solving health care challenges, while 38 percent cite the government. Other responses include health insurance companies (34%), pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies (32%), hospitals (31%), academics, non-profits or think tanks (29%), technology companies (25%), and retail pharmacies (7%).

“Consumers believe they are a critical part of finding solutions to today’s health care problems, and as health care stakeholders look to involve consumers differently, it’s important that their input is being heard,” said Salomon. “Our research makes it quite clear that the marketplace is not optimistic about the private sector’s role in making things better. It will be important for companies to credibly engage in problem-solving.”

Ethics Deemed Important Trait to Solve Health Care Challenges

The Harris Poll study finds that in order to be a part of the solution in addressing U.S. health care needs, consumers believe it is most important for organizations to demonstrate ethics (62% say very important) and quality (57%). Other critical factors include efficiency (51%), a long-term view versus a short-term gain (49%), collaboration (47%), flexibility (47%), and transparency (47%).

“As health care stakeholders explore new ventures that require permission to play in new arenas, it is important for them to understand the lens through which their reputation is evaluated,” said Salomon. “Right now, the marketplace seeks confirmation of ethical behavior before permission is granted, and it’s noteworthy that transparency and working collaboratively are also very important.

“Proactive reputation management continues to be key to unlocking business value, and as we look ahead it is plainly written that companies will need to refresh their old playbooks and engage in new ways.”

Looking Ahead: Beyond Doctors’ Offices

The Harris Poll study finds that when it comes to confidence in care sites, millennials (27%) are more confident in pharmacy-based clinics, compared to Generation X (14%) and baby boomers (14%). Overall, one-third of consumers say they trust pharmacies as a point of care.

“As business models are squeezed and companies look to broaden their portfolios, industries are increasingly playing new roles in our dynamic health care environment,” said Salomon. “Whether it’s meeting consumers’ needs for extended hours and convenient locations through retail pharmacy clinics, or technology companies working with patients to help manage chronic disease, these evolving ways of delivering care have the potential for disruption. Millennials’ receptivity to non-traditional alternatives can be seen as one proof point that there will be more disruption ahead.”


The 2016 Harris Poll Study of Reputation Equity and Risk Across the Health Care Sector is based on a sample of 1,018 U.S. adults ages 18 and over surveyed online between June 9 and June 16, 2016. Data are weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, age, race/ethnicity, region, education, income, and propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.