FDA expands online consumer communications

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The FDA has hired a broadband TV producer to head its online communications as the agency seeks to beef up its online content and launch a drug safety blog.

“The goal is to develop more packages for the web and put things out there that will meet different people's needs,” said Julie Zawisza, director of the office of communications at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, speaking at the ExL Pharma PR and communications summit this morning.

Paul Buckman joined the agency as division director, office of communications in July from Scripps Interactive, where he was director, broadband video programming and original content. Prior to that he was a senior producer at MSNBC.com, having started out in media as a Fox News field producer.

FDA launched its Transparency Blog (fdatransparencyblog.fda.gov) in support of the agency's transparency initiative in June 2009. Last month the agency added a page giving summaries of postmarketing safety data and steps the agency is taking to address safety issues in approved drugs. Zawisza said the agency is about to launch a drug safety blog which is causing some internal consternation. The agency is also looking at launching a Facebook page.

“In an agency as scientific as we are, and as mission-focused on regulation, I don't think we've always thought about who we're communicating to and how they're going to get this information,” said Zawisza. The agency aims to do a better job, she said, of communicating the difficulty of decision-making around drug safety issues – hence FDA's recent openness about internal divisions over how to proceed on Avandia.

It's a tricky balancing act, said Zawisza. The agency's communications shop doesn't want to pump out so much information that the public becomes blasé about safety concerns, nor do they want to alarm people.

“It's about helping the public understand that if drugs are on the market there will always be risks,” said Zawisza. “It's still rather new to us to really be thinking farther down about what to do and say.

“We're going to take baby steps as we put out more consumer-oriented information,” she added, noting that the agency now has a whole team dedicated to producing PSAs.
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