Is Pharma Getting the Best out of Social Media? - Pharmaceutical Technology

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PharmTech Europe

Is Pharma Getting the Best out of Social Media?
With social media receiving increased focus as the pharma industry strives to make the most of new communication technologies, we speak with Cognizant's Bhaskar Sambasivan to find out where pharma is when it comes to social media implementation and what more should be being done.

Pharmaceutical Technology Europe
Volume 24, Issue 6

Regulatory demand for accurate and timely adverse event(s) and off label reporting. Manufacturers, packers and distributors are required to submit all known reports of adverse drug side effects to regulatory bodies. Use of social media presents a risk of non-compliance because it is hard to identify the authenticity of the patient and the situation of the occurrence.

There is a legitimate concern that regulations will always be chasing the latest technology and communication medium and that by the time regulations catch up with existing social media activities, they may already be outdated. Proactive measures that may help the pharmaceutical industry to mitigate risks of regulatory non-compliance are:

  • Develop clear social media and ethics policies about the purpose of engaging in the social media.
  • Be sure you understand current legal restrictions. Stay in communication with legal team and keep an eye on the news for any regulatory changes
  • Encourage regulatory bodies to actively engage in social media with the industry to support and guide them to research and resolve issues through this evolving process.

Are there any other concerns that the pharma industry has with regards to social media?

There are several other concerns.

Undiscovered reports. Listening is tracking what customers are saying about pharmaceutical companies across social media channels rather than engaging customers in conversation. Listening to social media regarding mature products offers many opportunities to collect information on patient needs, physician treatment habits, product positioning and competitive intelligence. These products typically have narrower datasets and analytical objectives, aiming to glean customer feedback on specific products. This approach provides baseline sentiment and analysis for brands that are already on the market. This requires more planning and resources to ensure that adverse events and off-label information are appropriately handled.

Completeness of data by Therapeutic Area. Social media user engagement can vary depending on type and stage of illness. For example, evidence suggests that breast cancer patients are more engaged than diabetes patients, as diabetes may be considered more manageable and less life threatening than cancer or HIV/AIDS. Using social media to collect data about diabetes patients is difficult and could provide insufficient results and inconclusive analysis. This is something that pharmaceutical companies should bear in mind when collecting data through social media channels.

Liability. Another substantial concern of pharmaceutical companies focuses on their liability for inappropriate communication with patients through social media and the importance of not providing biased, incomplete or misleading information.

Bias and negative impact on reputation. Pharmaceutical companies have no control over antipathy in social media by public or various groups with vested interests and their ability to balance the “bad” or misleading information in public domain is another area where Pharmaceuticals have major reservations.

What are the limitations of popular social media platforms when it comes to using them in a commercial or professional context?

One of the biggest limitations of social media is the inability to moderate uncontrolled comments, which can be inappropriate and may not always be factually correct. In 2011, for example, many pharmaceutical companies were forced to shut down their Facebook pages—particularly those devoted to certain drugs—after Facebook stopped offering the companies an option to moderate public comments on the respective pages. All social media brand pages leave companies open and vulnerable to negative comments from disappointed customers and activists, which can be damaging to a brand's reputation.


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