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Drug companies, marketers need to monitor their brands on social media

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This post is by Adam Gaub, lead editor, SmartBrief for Health Care Marketers.

A new report issued today by marketing-technology company wool.labs analyzes seven years of social-media data and details the decline in consumers’ trust of GlaxoSmithKline’s diabetes drug Avandia, as well as in their doctors and the Food and Drug Administration.

GSK has survived many calls for the FDA to have Avandia pulled from the market — but the company may have been better off had it pulled the drug pre-emptively. The damage to both the drug and the company’s reputation in the eyes of the public has been tremendous — especially since 2006, when the heart risks associated with the drug began to be more widely discussed.

An FDA advisory panel voted in July to keep the drug on the market with new limitations, while also voting that the drug posed more heart risks than competitors’ products, such as Takeda Pharmacuetical’s Actos. The FDA is expected to issue a final ruling on the status of the drug in the weeks ahead.

Wool.labs cites 2006 as a critical year for GSK and the drug, as “patient anger grows because they have to figure out too much on their own.” Patients had been putting up with weight gain and edema associated with the drug for several years, but when doctors continued to prescribe the drug and others like it (Actos and Rezulin) after connections to congenital heart failure started coming out, patient confidence in their doctors also dropped.

A recent Consumer Reports survey backs this up, as 69% of those polled say they believe drugmakers influence doctors when it comes to prescribing medications, while 81% say they harbor concerns about the rewards pharmaceutical companies give doctors for writing a certain number of prescriptions for a particular drug.

The wool.labs report outlines how Avandia’s public standing further declined in 2007, as comments on forums and social-media sites began to shift toward anger at the company and doctors for not disclosing the full nature of possible side effects that were beginning to be reported by media outlets. Today, comments analyzed by the firm register more on the surprise scale than anything else — surprise among consumers that Avandia is still on the market.

With GSK facing numerous lawsuits from patients and families of deceased patients who had taken Avandia, wool.labs warns that a closer eye to social media could have given GSK — and other companies in a similar situation — a better idea of what consumers were saying, and given them a leg up on reacting to address concerns.

Image credit: dra_schwartz, iStockphoto