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Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Big Pharma still looking for the “social” cure

Big Pharma still looking for the “social” cure: "

Should drug makers be required to disclose up-front all the potential harmful side effects of new medications within a single, 140-character Tweet? And what about guidance on how to set up a Facebook fan page of some new HIV drug?

It’s amazing to think that regulators in the U.S. and Europe still haven’t figured out how Big Pharma can use social media to engage with potential patients, not to mention the friends and families of those afflicted with serious medical conditions. All too often, niche online medical forums are the first place people turn to learn more about new treatments when confronted with a confounding new malady. And still, regulators are forcing drug makers to remain on the periphery, forbidding most kinds of interaction with the public. To be sure, many of the world’s largest drug makers monitor healthcare social media forums to better understand how their customers or potential customers feel about certain types of treatment, but it’s just that: listening. Most forms of engagement are still verboten.

Under this backdrop, the Food and Drug Administration in America has convened hearings and is seeking input from the industry to determine rules of engagement. It’s been a slow process, indeed.

As Ad Age , the citing trade association Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America wants the FDA to speed up the decision-making process. It quotes the PhRMA as saying:

“At a time when more than half of adults first turn to the internet to find health information, the extraordinary volume of dangerous and inaccurate information about medicines on the web makes the FDA’s leadership on this topic all the more essential.”

It’s not just drug makers that want some guidance. Doctors too want clearance to use social media channels to start talking about novel new treatments. In a strongly worded post last November, Joel Selzer, the co-founder of the physicians online network Ozmosis issues a call to action demanding the regulators resolve this matter.

With thousands of physicians actively using social media every day to access and share medical information (see Rohit Bhargava’s post on “How Doctors Are Using Social Media“, one would expect pharmaceutical and medical device firms to salivate at the engagement possibilities…While holding the public hearings was a great step forward, the FDA needs to augment its social media expertise and it needs to do so quickly.


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