Does the Problem Hold the Solution?

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by Briana Campbell (@MsMatchGirl)

People like to make out that the issues surrounding pharmas involvement with social media are extraordinarily complex. Im not so sure.

Its over-simplistic – but still true – to say that the main worry with digital media for the pharmaceutical industry is the interactivity of social networks. You see, I dont think its the rapidity of the connection that worries regulators and marketers, or the availability of information – not by themselves. Its the ability to use that speed and access to share the information.

People are scared of the ability to share.

On one level, it makes sense. Disgruntled employees can raise embittered grievances. Dissatisfied customers can complain. Discontented partners can spread untruths. None of this is fact-checked or vetted or permitted – it simply happens. And, human nature being what it is, the old adage that the unhappy ones are twice as motivated to tell people can be true. Thats frightening.

Marketers and regulators fear unhappy people sharing.

This is natural, but it is, I think, the mistake. We shouldnt fear bad news. We should welcome it, because hearing about it first, and fast, allows us to address it.

To this end,some regulators are considering recruiting social media as a channel for collecting adverse-event reports. The UKs Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) joined theEuropean Medicines Agency, theAssociation of the British Pharmaceutical Industry andthe U.S. FDA in starting aTwitter feed in December, andpondered its utility as a reporting channel in September.

Pharma is used to assuming that social media is a flood of bad news that were holding back. To continue the metaphor, what if we started to see social media as a spout that would alert us to the leak?

Regulators and companies would know about adverse events sooner, and their relationship with each other would be more transparent. Patients and healthcare providers could report more easily. Marketers could address potential problems faster.

All of this information is already beingcollected. And its alreadybeing madepublic. And it has been for almost 50years. Is this really such a groundbreaking step, as were so conditioned to think? Or in adding social media reporting, would we simply be updating the type of form that a patient fills out, just as we added them to websites a decade or two ago?

Perhaps social media is not really the problem we think it is, opening us up to people saying goodness-knows-what. Perhaps its a solution, in a wider and busier world, to gather patient data more efficiently than we could otherwise.

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