October 2022

Bioethics, Health Policy, and Media Experts Weigh in on Restoring Trust in the FDA

On September 29, 2022, The Greenwall Foundation hosted a panel discussion about the state of public trust in the FDA: Has it been lost? If so, why? And how might it be won back? You can watch that panel in its entirety here:

The panel was moderated by Adam Feuerstein, senior writer at STAT, co-host of “The Readout LOUD” podcast, and winner of the 2021 George Polk Award for investigative medical journalism. Feuerstein was joined by Greenwall Faculty Scholar Alums Jason Karlawish, MD, Aaron Kesselheim, MD, JD, and Holly Fernandez Lynch, JD, along with Faculty Scholars Program Committee Member Keith Wailoo, PhD.

The group began by unpacking what it means to trust the Agency: according to Dr. Kesselheim, it requires trustworthiness on the part of FDA, with processes and personnel in place to promote the public interest, along with a line of communication with the public that creates meaningful understanding of those processes.

From there, panelists described situations that have contributed to declining trust in the FDA, including controversies surrounding th­e approval of the Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm, the opioid crisis, and tobacco regulation, and how these and similar stories reflect tensions between predictability and speed of FDA processes, transparency with the public, and regulatory flexibility. They also suggested ways that the FDA could help restore public confidence in the Agency.

Partway through the program, the panelists turned the table and asked questions of Feuerstein about the role of journalism and the news media vis-a-vis trust in science, medicine, and the FDA. The media, Dr. Karlawish noted, has been a central area of polarization and declining trust in our society, which Feuerstein acknowledged makes the job of a reporter more challenging. He pointed to the need for increased adherence to the standards that the field of journalism has developed for itself over the years to earn public trust. Other challenges to the media’s ability to earn and sustain trust, Feuerstein described, include finding strong sources for understanding complex scientific ideas and properly communicating the business incentives of industry actors in healthcare and medicine.

A persistent throughline of the conversation was the importance of open, consistent, and honest communication among those in relationships in which public trust has waned. For more from the panel, including commentary from the public, check out the #FSP20 hashtag on Twitter.

About the Faculty Scholars Program Anniversary Event

“Restoring Trust in the FDA” was a special event presented by The Greenwall Foundation to mark the twentieth anniversary of its flagship Faculty Scholars Program, which boasts over 60 Scholars from more than 40 different institutions, each with a distinct perspective and focus. Over the last two decades, the Faculty Scholars Program has helped to build the next generation of leaders in bioethics by supporting early-career faculty members to carry out innovative bioethics research, and by building an intellectually rich and active community.