5. Revision and limits

Revision and limits

Having a code of conduct is a key element of ensuring effective governance (including self-regulation) of an organisation. Developing and reviewing a code (regularly) helps to demonstrate

  • how the organisation operates,
  • how it embeds its core values (e.g., how they are reflected in its communications, processes, and behaviour),
  • how it relates to its key stakeholders
  • how it helps to build trust with stakeholders, in particular those looking for organisations with strong records of adherence to standards of conduct and socially sensitive behaviour, integrity, and a commitment to ethics.

For pharmaceutical companies codes of conduct therefore are instruments to govern and unify their role in healthcare. Adaptation, matching medical, social and legislative context is essential. A revision process must be installed and carefully handled to reflect legislative and other changes, as healthcare systems and means of communication are evolving. It is then necessary to update or expand codes to ensure a full coverage of current trends and topics as well as compliance with legislation. National codes may take the lead on a specific topic and induce new developments in regional or international codes.

Most codes have not covered interaction with patients and patient organisations during the R&D process. As this has become more and more relevant during the last decade e.g. EFPIA has complemented their Code of Practice in 2019 by a specific document describing principles for working with patients, patient organisation representatives & carers, e.g. remunerating them for work undertaken with the pharmaceutical industry (https://www.efpia.eu/media/288492/working-together-with-patient-groups-23102017.pdf and  https://www.efpia.eu/media/413114/workingtogetherwithpatients_patient-remuneration-principles.pdf).

The limit of codes and their rules of practice is inherent to the variety of situations that may arise: no code or guideline can envisage all possible scenarios. Professionals' commitment to act in the spirit of the code is the best protection against misconduct. Company's values and corporate culture play a significant role in framing professionals' attitudes. Internal training and re-emphasis of good practice, provided on a regular basis, will help employees of pharmaceutical companies to adhere to codes of conduct for the benefit of their collaboration with other stakeholders, notably healthcare professionals and patients.

Food for thought:

What would you do if you were approached by a pharmaceutical company with a consultancy contract?

How would you approach writing a code of conduct covering patient involvement in research and development? (with Industry and with Academia or patient groups conducting their own research)