They don’t diagnose or prescribe anything, yet they are the ones who give many patients the chance to better health. Antonia Meyer and Dr Daniel Wixforth from the 365 Sherpas/Hirschen Group explain public affairs and policy advice within the healthcare field:
Political work within the healthcare world has a negative reputation. Are lobbyists bad people? There’s no such thing as good or bad, only professional and unprofessional. All professional interest groups know the particular interests they are representing. This said, they should never lose track of the common good that they are supposed to stand for. They don’t want to put pressure on their target group, but rather convince them by using sound reasons that set them apart from those of the competition. They have very high standards in terms of transparency and their ethical code of conduct, and are forward-thinking. And that’s why they have a good reputation.
Can public affairs and policy advice have positive results for patients? The most important target group is the political decision makers. And they have a simple equation: patient = citizen = voter. All those who go by the survival-of-the-fittest rule are either cast in a negative light or, in other cases, regulated by policies. One must know the political thought processes and anticipate decision-making patterns. That means placing the patient at the heart of one’s decisions in order to get the attention and trust of politicians. That’s what helps form a foundation for creating new therapies.
What role does courage play in this area? Courage means withstanding resistance, possessing debating skills, believing in one’s own arguments and standing firm, even when a light breeze turns into a storm. Courage is action. There’s a saying in political consultation: ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.’ It means that one must be present when relevant social and political issues are being debated in order to help shape them. It’s something that is expected and rewarded.
Are there examples one can learn from? NGOs do a lot of good things here, even when one doesn’t always agree with their position or tactics. A good example is the German Environmental Agency’s influence on the automotive industry. NGOs are able to get their position heard with a maximum amount of attention. This is achieved through their use of the media, through staying on course in spite of conflict and through being flexible. What’s interesting is that they have created optimal tools and channels in order to mobilise their base and multiply their position’s reach. The pharmaceutical industry can do this as well.