FDA wedded to the FTC—for better or for worse

Kurt Mueller
Kurt Mueller

Kurt Mueller
Chief digital and science officer, Roska Healthcare 

In digital marketing, the FDA and FTC have become inextricably linked. Both exist to protect consumers and, in theory, that's a good thing. In practice, however, extensive regulatory requirements around how, when, and where healthcare marketers communicate with consumers might be reaching a point where it's inhibiting quality of care.

The FDA's OPDP (formerly DDMAC) regulates the promotional content of prescribed medications. It cares about what we serve up to consumers. The FTC protects consumers' privacy: it cares about how we communicate with consumers. Specifically, the FTC set forth a proposed framework in December 2010 that advised the industry of the need to put mechanisms in place that allow consumers to opt out of online data collection used for behavioral targeting of advertisements and digital content.

While we need to produce marketing content that adheres to promotional regulations (OPDP) and distribute in a manner that respects personal information (FTC), going to the extreme by blocking all tracking can be harmful to consumers.

When used appropriately, serving targeted content can be enormously helpful in getting the right information to the right patients/caregivers about the right medication (or support) they need to improve their quality of care. Amidst the mass of digital clutter consumers come across every day, behavioral targeting can help them quickly find and interact with quality content appropriate for them.

If a patient is new to therapy, companies might customize content to be more nurturing and educational—offering tools and recommendations at the outset of treatment. If the patient has been on therapy for some time, companies might customize content with more “sharing” functionality to connect with other “like” patients/caregivers, who desire more experiential peer-to-peer interactions.

Without behavioral targeting, it's back to mass marketing using a shotgun approach. Worse, there will be more “off-label” exposure to unintended audiences driven from an inability to withhold advertising/content from consumers for which the product/information is not indicated.

Pharma marketers must now not just view their content under the lens of the FDA, but must also consider the distribution and targeting methods scrutinized by the FTC. When done correctly, in an open and transparent manner, behavioral targeting can do a world of good, improve patient care in an already challenged healthcare system, and improve overall patient outcomes.
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