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Pharma, medial device leaders fret about social media’s lack of fact-checkability

3 min read

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“This is America. We’re talking about speech. Unless something’s really wrong, why not?”

Panel experts voiced their support for allowing drug and health care companies to access the power of social networks during the Food and Drug Law Institute’s recent Advertising and Promotion Conference in Washington, D.C.

These experts discussed how to communicate the message of drug and health care product safety and risk to the public as they wait for the Food and Drug Administration to set guidelines on how health care companies and marketers can proceed into the social-media space — regulation that are expected by the end of the year.

“The right patient, the right medication, at the right time, should be our goal,” said panelist Freda Lewis-Hall, the chief medical officer and a senior vice president at Pfizer. “We have narrowing opportunities to provide the best informed, most accurate information about our products.”

The problem, Lewis-Hall said, is staying within strict marketing rules set forth by the FDA, while advice from patients, practicioners and anonymous bloggers goes unchecked.

“We know people don’t know how to vet information available to them in cyberspace,” she said. “But the fact remains that we’re not the trusted source of information.”

Industry lawyer Richard Cooper said that a public misunderstanding of the cost behind the research involved in creating medical devices and drugs, coupled with the media hyping coverage of any lawsuit against a medical device or drug company, has hacked away at public trust in the industry. Part of the blame, however, sits with the medical companies, who must be more transparent in how they sponsor research and promote their products.

Experts from the FDA were on hand to talk about updates to the policy and give some examples of where health advertising has gone wrong. And though the FDA met on guidelines for Internet advertising as far back as 1996, the explosion of social media in the past five years has increased the urgency with which both sides wish to have guidelines in place.

The team leader for the FDA Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications, Barbara Chong, highlighted a November 2009 hearing on the issue, and while she provided little in new information, she did say the FDA guidelines would not be platform-specific, but broad-based — meaning the FDA won’t create rules for specific social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter.

James Shehan, the general counsel for Novo Nordisk, said the heart of any effort to promote a medical product boiled down to one question.

“How do we protect the ability to truthfully convey scientific information?”

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Image credit, Henrik5000, via iStockphoto