We all know that the popularity of social media has sky rocketed, for the pharma industry, most notably within the last 12 months. Testament to this increase is the popularity of this blog, as well our LinkedIn group. I am proud to say that we now have 1,200 members of this group (and counting!) so it’s clear that people enjoy “meeting” and sharing ideas in this way. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still testing the water; trying to work out how best to use this new tool. I can say that I’ve benefited from it immensely. I am delighted to be part of a group of highly talented individuals and in fact, I am often in contact with group members, seeking advice and expertise and discussing latest trends.
But our group has been created for the sole purpose of connecting likeminded industry professionals. What happens when our industry looks to social media to communicate with its patients? It’s a scary prospect but one that absolutely can’t be ignored, especially when, as highlighted by a recent blog by my colleague Patricia van Arnum, only 11% of consumers admit to going to a pharmaceutical company’s website when seeking health-related advice or guidance on medication. Sure, regulators are fully aware of this trend and seeking ways to improve patient access to the right kind of information but can regulations really make a difference? Jennifer Colapietro of Pricewaterhouse Coopers thinks not. In a recent episode of Pharma Faceoff — a video series by my colleagues at Pharmaceutical Executive) — she explained that regulations can’t control individual interpretations.
Direct communication between pharma company and patient in an easily accessible forum would undoubtedly provide the patient with access to accurate information but it will also provide the pharma company with invaluable patient feedback and intelligence. I know that many pharma companies are looking to social media as a way of communicating with their patients, but there is a problem with lack of patient knowledge. How can patients be made aware that these accurate information sources are available? Equally, how can patients be educated on how to separate the accurate information providers from the inaccurate information providers? It’s not going to be an easy task but I think it is one that can be tackled if all bodies — healthcare regulators, industry, patient groups, governments — joined forces and set about defining a harmonised approach.
On question remains: is a harmonised approach to social media realistic? This debate, I predict, will rage on for years to come.