Have you ever been in midtown Manhattan around lunchtime and wondered “Why are there so many men wearing the same vest?”
It’s an odd phenomenon that in this international, diverse city, you can walk down the street and see every other man wearing the “midtown uniform.” What is the uniform? Slacks + a dress shirt + a fleece vest (if you don’t believe us, see the aptly named Instagram account @midtownuniform).
This might seem like a relatively benign style choice, but this week, there’s high-drama in the world of men’s business fashion! Patagonia, the maker of many corporate-logo vests, will no longer produce branded apparel for financial services companies. "Due to their environmental activism, they are reluctant to co-brand with oil, drilling, mining, dam construction, etc. companies that they view to be ecologically damaging." Though it may have taken some vest-lovers by surprise, the move is on brand with Patagonia’s corporate persona as a standout leader on corporate social activism.
What was unexpected? Patagonia openly trolling Wall Street with this (now deleted) post: 



 A series of Monday-night tweets from President Trump seemed to put ACA repeal on the backburner, but the Administration and House Democrats are still looking at drug pricing legislation. Though it doesn’t sound like a team effort. Politico reported “Democrats aren’t negotiating drug pricing bills with the White House,” and are instead working on their own. “Sounds about right,” said the American people, whose confidence in bipartisan action on healthcare is at a low, according to the latest Gallup poll. “More than two-thirds of Republicans and Democrats are not at all confident that elected Republicans and Democrats will be able to achieve bipartisan legislation to reduce costs.”


 The Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) finally published their site that lists drug price ceilings – a tool meant to help 340B institutions avoid being overcharged. We say finally because HRSA was directed to create “a secure database” with the passage of the ACA, but it’s been delayed for many years. You know what they say, “Better [nine years] late than never.”


 Cigna and Express Scripts announced a new initiative to cap the monthly out-of-pocket cost of insulin to $25 for patients. But there’s a catch: patients will only see the impact if their employer approves the change in their plan. The news is a great example of increasing awareness about the role of employers in managing health care costs (more on that from a past TWTW). Skeptics like Senator Chuck Grassley noted “It shouldn’t take bad press and congressional scrutiny to get health plans, their pharmacy benefit managers and pharmaceutical companies to arrive at a fair price for a drug that’s been on the market for nearly a century."


 A new survey looked at the potential health impact of unaffordable rent and found that more than half of the renters surveyed had delayed health care because they couldn’t afford it. The study adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests housing and health outcomes may be intertwined, and coincides with a new collaboration between UnitedHealthcare and the AMA to better identify social determinants of health.


 “Alexa, comply with HIPAA.” Amazon announced a new partnership with six healthcare companies that will enable Alexa to share personalized health information. Alexa will be taught new “commands” that allow consumers to “receive personalized insights, post-op updates, and daily health tips; schedule same-day appointments; or check the status of mail-order prescriptions.” Amazon is able to make this move because they are now HIPAA compliant – meaning they can manage patients’ sensitive health information.


Money matters: the health pay gap

April 2nd was Equal Pay Day in the U.S. – the day that marks how long into 2019 women would have to work to “catch up” to what their male peers already earned in 2018.

How this impacts healthcare: 

One more thing: Equal pay day comes much later in the year for many women. Here’s a helpful breakdown

 This can't be legal, can it?

With help from: Legal comms expert, Amanda Eiber.

What do anxiety, hair loss, erectile dysfunction, low libido and migraines all have in common?

They’re all conditions for which patients can now access prescription therapies online – through a new crop of websites that markets drugs directly to consumers. Instead of going into a doctor’s office, patients are filtered through “prescribing algorithms” and connected to physicians affiliated with the sites who can write a script remotely.

The potential appeal for patients is clear: There’s no doctor consultation in which you have to discuss potentially embarrassing conditions face-to-face, the medication is delivered to your door, it likely costs less, and is just overall easier to get.

And their marketing is pretty consumer-friendly: 

Confused about how this is legal? So were we. 

  • A lot of these drugs are being prescribed “off-label,” for a condition different from that for which they were approved. For example, Roman markets sertraline (generic Zoloft) for premature ejaculation. Another site – Hers – touts a drug’s ability to help “manifest your badassery,” giving rise to questions about compliance with fair balance requirements that inform patients (a.k.a. customers) of a drug’s risk.
  • The loophole? These companies define themselves to as “tech companies,” not healthcare providers, and are simply providing access to physicians who can prescribe drugs as they deem appropriate. As such, companies like Kick attest that “federal marketing restrictions on drugmakers do not apply.” Hmm…
  • There is no one federal or state agency that regulates online prescription drug services. Instead, telehealth is governed by a patchwork of state laws. Coverage depends on a user’s location, and the prescribing physician must be licensed in the patient’s state.

What can the drug industry learn from these companies?

While a week of top-tier coverage may have nudged regulators to look into these companies, there’s no current roadmap for investigation or new regulations. So instead of waiting for regulatory action, drugmakers should recognize both the benefits and risks of these new approaches to patient marketing.

There’s something to be learned from these companies’ direct-to-patient content and branding – particularly for companies working in large, chronic conditions. While some of their claims wouldn’t pass muster in a medical/legal/regulatory process, pharma could benefit from a dose of “consumer speak.”

Drugmakers should also consider how they can better meet a clear patient desire for easier, more affordable access, while maintaining critical safety controls. 


Who wrote this? The managing editors of TWTW are Dana Davis, who has been craving Goldfish all week, and Randi Kahn, who checked out the cafeteria of the new Syneos Health HQ this week. 

Syneos Health Communications' Reputation & Risk Management Practice is a team of healthcare communications consultants, policy-shapers and crisis response specialists. We provide unique solutions to the evolving communications challenges in today’s healthcare industry, using evidence-based approaches to help our clients successfully navigate the most sensitive of situations.
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Image credits: cooperation by barurezeki from the Noun Project, House by Scott Lewis from the Noun Project, Amazon Echo by Sarah Stenseng from the Noun Project.

And now please enjoy this disclaimer that prevents our team from getting in a heap of trouble: This report may contain links to external or third party websites. These links are provided solely for your convenience. Links taken to other sites are done so at your own risk and Syneos Health accepts no liability for any linked sites or their content. Syneos Health makes no warranties or representations, express or implied about such linked websites, the third parties they are owned and operated by, the information contained on them or the suitability or quality of any of their products or services. Syneos Health does not authorize the infringement of any intellectual property rights contained in material offered through these linked sites. Please refer to the use agreement and/or copyright statements of any external site you visit, or the terms and conditions of any externally provided web site for instructions, restrictions, and guidelines. If you have a question, please contact the webmaster of the external site.

About the Author:

Dana Davis is a strategist in the Reputation & Risk Management Practice, where she helps biopharma clients communicate the value they bring to their stakeholders. Her expertise lies in issues of corporate activism; advising companies that must respond to activist tactics from patients, employees, or investors, as well as companies looking to take a proactive stance on social issues.

Syneos Health Communications' Reputation & Risk Management Practice is a team of healthcare communications consultants, policy-shapers and crisis response specialists. We provide unique solutions to the evolving communications challenges in today’s healthcare industry, using evidence-based approaches to help our clients successfully navigate the most sensitive of situations.