The public’s opinion of pharmacists and the profession of pharmacy as a whole comes up as a topic of discussion every year about this time as Gallup will release their annual Americans’ Ratings of Honesty and Ethical Standards in Professions in mid-December. Last year, as expected, healthcare professionals once again rated extremely high on the poll in regards to their honesty and ethics, with nurses rating the highest among all professions for the 15th year in a row. When asked by Gallup to rate each profession by the following yardsticks of “Very High”, “High”, “Average”, “Low” or “Very Low” in regards to their integrity, ethics and honesty, an amazing 84% of all Americans rated nurses as “Very High/High”. A minuscule 3% rated nursing professionals as “Very Low/Low”. Nurses have led the poll every year since Gallup first included them in their survey in 1999, with the only exception being 2001. In 2001 firefighters were included on the list after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and their profession received an unprecedented score of 90% “Very High/High” from the American public in the wake of their heroic efforts.
Public Opinion of Other Professions
To put the 2016 Gallup poll’s results in proper perspective, let’s take a quick look at how Americans rated several other professions.
Profession “Very High/High” “Very Low/Low”
Pharmacists 67% 8%
Engineers 65% 5%
Physicians/Doctors 65% 7%
Dentists 59% 7%
Police/Law Enforcement 58% 13%
Teachers 47% 18%
Clergy 44% 13%
Bankers 24% 30%
Journalists 23% 41%
Lawyers/Attorneys 18% 37%
Business Executives 17% 32%
Stockbrokers 12% 39%
US Senators 12% 50%
Car Salesman 9% 46%
US Congressman 8% 59%
As expected, lawyers, attorneys, politicians and car salespeople came in with very low scores as they do annually. What is perhaps significant is that these numbers reveal that US residents rated only six (6) out of the twenty-two (22) professions that are measured by the poll as having an above average ethical and moral standard (nurses, pharmacists, doctors, dentists, engineers and police officers). Additionally, in regards to honesty and ethics, over 80% of all Americans rated ten (10) out of the twenty-two (22) professions measured as not having “high” or “very high” standards. Sadly, these professions include such important members of our society as attorneys, stockbrokers, politicians and corporate business executives.
Are the Pharmacist Survey Ratings Misleading?
Once again the 2016 annual Gallup poll showed the confidence that Americans have in the healthcare professions and the trust they show for healthcare providers in the United States. The poll also affirms that a majority of Americans view pharmacists as both honest and ethical. Placing second on the 2016 list with a score of 67% of those surveyed rating the profession as having “high” or “very high” standards, pharmacists once again trailed only nurses.
Yet some experts are asking if perhaps the poll numbers are somewhat misleading. To be objective, let’s take a look at the overall history of the survey in regards to pharmacists.
– In the response category of “very high”, pharmacists received a score from the American public of 15% in the 2016 poll. This is well below the high of 19% seen in both the 2012 and 2004 polls. The lowest score that pharmacy previously received was a 12% in 2002, but many point out that the majority of professions all received lower scores after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. So many analysts conclude that the public trust of pharmacists has actually seen a major decrease of over 21%.
– In the response categories of “low” and “very low”, pharmacy scored an 8% in last years survey. Two years ago in 2014, pharmacy received a 7% in these categories. However, this is extremely high when compared to previous years where the profession received an average of a 3 to 5% in the decade between 2004 – 2013. Again, analysts point to the 37.5% increase as a major area of concern in regards to the public’s trust of pharmacists and pharmacy as a profession in regards to their honesty, integrity and ethics.
Why Pharmacy May Be Losing America’s Trust
Several reasons may be leading to an erosion of the public’s trust and confidence in pharmacy as seen in the analysis of the 2016 Gallup poll numbers. Perhaps the greatest contributing factor is the unprecedented number of scandals and lawsuits involving pharmacies and pharmacists reported by the news media over the past decade.
In today’s world of social media and 24-hour news channels, never before has so much public attention been focused on every area of American society. Pharmacy has had more than its fair share of bad publicity, as almost daily a new story “breaks” involving the profession that presents pharmacy and its practitioners in a negative light to the public. From the deaths of 24 patients due to meningitis caused by an infusion pharmacy, to major drug recalls and nationally renowned compounding pharmacies being shut down by government agencies, to unheard of billions of dollars in Medicare and Medicaid fraud, pharmacy is continuously finding itself in the national news’ spotlight in a very unfavorable way. With the attention of the public and lawmakers on both patient privacy and the high costs of healthcare, one can only assume that the bad publicity associated with both scandals and lawsuits that have involved pharmacists nationally will only increase and continue to tarnish the pharmacy profession in the public’s eyes.
What Can You Do To Help?
In today’s world of instantaneous news via social media and the Internet, all pharmacists and pharmacies must strive to ensure that their business, employees and personal actions are all based on total honesty and integrity. In an excellent article by Dr. Christina Tarantola, PharmD, CHC, the topic of dealing with patients when mistakes by pharmacists are made leads to the compelling conclusion that only being honest will restore the public’s faith in the profession. Perhaps we all should “step back” and take a retrospective look at why we became pharmacists in the first place. Was it to just make a good living, or was it really to help sick patients get well and be of service to our society?
This post is not intended to stop pharmacists from engaging in criminal activities and breaking laws. Those that do will probably continue until they are caught and find themselves in the media spotlight and courtrooms. However, it is intended for the ethical and honest members of the pharmacy profession to take note that the American public is “watching” and the reputation of all pharmacists is at stake.
Make sure that both you and all of you employees are properly trained, plus have the most up-to-date policies and procedures to ensure that you are practicing pharmacy to the highest standards possible. Remember as you go through your daily activities that the public is judging our profession and, ultimately, how they view our profession is the responsibility of each and every one of us.
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