No company wants to be seen as uncaring, least of all in the healthcare space. Clients I’ve supported in this sector are often passionate about their mission to bring new and better treatment options to patients. But companies’ intentions may be undermined or misconstrued if they fail to develop a communications plan for an expanded access or “compassionate use” program. These are corporate initiatives that enable—or sometimes oblige—companies to make medicines available to certain patients before those products are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The fact is, these programs are conceived and carried out in sensitive contexts that involve complex medical, ethical and business considerations. Unfortunately, in too many cases, conversations about expanded access take place under the glare of media attention. For patients with terminal diseases, an expanded access program (EAP) may offer the only hope for an effective treatment. Companies, for their part, may have limited supplies of the medicine and they could be juggling other regulatory and resource constraints. In an emotionally fraught public forum, neither side is likely to see its interests served—which is why a well-crafted communications program can be a life-saver.

The pressures and politics surrounding compassionate use may be intense. But with a combination of careful planning, third-party support and principled decision-making, companies can remain true to their mission to help patients while still protecting their reputations and commercial viability.

This content is repurposed from Paul V. Tyahla’s article on PM360.