Social engagement, patient dialogue among reasons pharmas kept Facebook pages after open wall policy

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After Facebook's decision on August 15 to enforce open walls on the social networking site's pharma pages, companies were left with two options: to close down their pages altogether, or to allow the public to openly comment on their products.

While the risky implications of the latter decision caused many a pharma to shutter their pages – including a Facebook page of AstraZeneca's devoted to depression, and two Johnson & Johnson pages dedicated to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – several companies have decided to keep their pages open, despite the added possibilities for negative comments, or worse, consumer remarks about bad side effects or the promotion of off-label use, which could result in an adverse event report (AER) being filed with the FDA.    

Brian Overstreet, president of AdverseEvents, Inc., a California-based service provider which focuses on AERs reported to FDA, surmises that since the level and quality of information that is typically posted to pharma Facebook walls doesn't meet criteria to report events, the biggest fear centers on negative user reactions to drugs.

“[Pharma companies] just don't have the resources to filter [walls] and have not been given guidance by FDA on how to deal with it,” Overstreet explains. “They are playing by an old set of rules in a new medium.”

As for the companies that continue to maintain pages, many do so to give patient communities the chance to have ongoing dialogue about the problems they are facing with their diseases or medical conditions. This route, of course, comes with vigilant monitoring and filtering of comments – via pharma company staff and in some cases third-party maintenance.

“We operate a system of post-moderation,” says Sue Silk, director, communications & public affairs for Europe, Middle East & Africa at Janssen, commenting on the pharma's monitoring of its Psoriasis360 Facebook page. “The comments are checked on a daily basis and the tool ‘conversocial' flags any new comments that appear on the site.”

Some companies, such as Boehringer Ingelheim and medical device company Zimmer, choose to monitor their pages manually, namely to encourage “best-in-class” social engagement, according to company reps.

While deleting comments happens on occasion, less likely has been the instance of AERs resulting from pharma Facebook comments. However, the likelihood of FDA outlining a standard set of guidelines for pharma social media anytime soon sparks Overstreet to add, “God knows if and when that will happen.”

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