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Pharma Must Embrace Its Social Media Role


The absence of pharma brands on social media creates a significant void of reputable healthcare information to aid patients, writes Dawn Lacallade.

The absence of pharma brands on social media creates a significant void of reputable healthcare information to aid patients, writes Dawn Lacallade, LiveWorld.

Social media permeates virtually every aspect of a person’s digital life. Patients are using social media as a major source of information and an integral part of their healthcare research journey. It is therefore imperative that pharma companies be present on social media to provide full and balanced information to consumers.

To understand how social media channels can best benefit patients, it is important to understand the patient journey and the needs that drive people to use social media as a source of information.

When patients begin having symptoms, they will often begin a digital research journey, which includes searching social channels. Their initial discoveries often occur before or in parallel with a healthcare professional (HCP) visit. The subsequent HCP diagnosis then triggers a second wave of research. Newly-diagnosed patients go online to seek more information about their conditions from both credible sources, and from people like themselves - this patient’s emotional story can attest to the healing power of social support.

Over the past 20 years, social media has played a significantly larger role in healthcare research and support. It is especially helpful for patients with chronic, recurrent disorders, such as psoriasis or arthritis. If patients continually vent their frustrations about their disorder to friends and family, they tend to fatigue their personal support system, which is why social media groups become a key source of patient support.

A patient's journey on social media to research and understand the afflictions, as well as connect to other patients.

As patients share their stories, they become a significant source of information to those actively seeking their perspective. But at times this information can be incorrect, unbalanced, and even irrelevant to someone whose condition is even just slightly different. While their symptoms may appear consistent, it’s often difficult for an untrained patient to have a clear understanding of what is on-label and accurate for their particular condition.

With current FDA guidance, pharma companies aren’t able to easily join the conversation to provide accurate, balanced information. Regulations mandate that, within a single social post, brands must provide accurate details on the benefits and risks associated with conditions and products. Given the character limits associated with many social communication channels, most pharma companies stay out of the conversation entirely. This means that when patients take to social media, the information they find may not necessarily be from reputable, accredited sources. It may be marginally inaccurate at best, significantly harmful at worst.

To illustrate the magnitude of unregulated misinformation in social channels, I was part of a recent review of comments on the drug Cialis on Twitter. We found that a full 49% of mentions were from illegal pharmacies that often include only benefit information, or incorrect information in their tweets. An additional 8% of comments were from individuals talking about Cialis and the benefits with no balance. This second group was highly concerning, because of the high instance of off-label or unlabeled secondary benefits they may have incorrectly attributed to Cialis. In addition, 11% of tweets were about negative perceptions that ranged from actual adverse events (2%) to negative effects of long-term use. In all, only 2% of the information about Cialis on Twitter was credible. (Note: 15% of the comments were not applicable.)

It is more important than ever to add to the sources of credible, high-quality information on health conditions, their treatments, and drugs available. It’s crucial for pharma companies to provide balanced and credible information on social media, so they can take part in the patients’ digital research journey.

Dawn Lacallade is LiveWorld’s Chief Social Strategist and Pharma Practice Lead.

Connect with her @DawnL and on LinkedIn.



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