In today’s world, once something becomes “hot” everyone thinks they have to use it, whether it makes business sense or not. That dynamic certainly applies to social media. An IMS report looks at what drug companies are doing to use social media. (IMS Report) Social media use is very widespread among adults in the US and it is inevitable that some of that use will be related to health. But there is often little real control over the accuracy of information on a site, even one like Wikipedia. And product and service vendors see them as marketing channels, not places to provide neutral advice. The report finds that drug companies say understanding social media’s impact on their marketing efforts and on product use is of strategic importance, but early efforts are diverse and not necessarily effective. Manufacturers want to at a minimum be aware of “buzz” about products, especially negative buzz, and social media is a good source for monitoring comments.
The report also describes regulatory efforts, primarily by the FDA, to ensure that social media use doesn’t sidestep traditional regulation of drug marketing efforts, particularly in regard to off-label usage. Finally, IMS has created something called the Social Media Engagement Index, which attempts to measure how successfully a company is using these new internet communication platforms. Most drug firms score very poorly at the current time, with Johnson & Johnson leading the pack. As the report notes, social media use is lowest among the highest utilizers of health care and of drugs, so whether it can have an impact on inappropriate utilization and spending is quite unclear. And there is a significant patient trust issue–while people may look at social media, they tend to have the highest trust of physicians and friends and family. From a personal perspective, we would warn people to be extremely cautious about any information they obtain from social media, and it seems unlikely it can ever, or should ever, be a primary approach for assisting in finding health care guidance.