Social media should connect patients with doctors

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One definition of social media is public conversation between private individuals. Now apply this to the most important health issue you've ever faced and you see the daunting challenge the FDA contends with in setting social media marketing guidelines. Health literacy, privacy preferences and lifestyle all impact how people interpret social interactions online. What may seem educational for the masses could be persuasive to the individual facing a health issue.

Pharma can and should join the digital movement, but there's obvious hesitation given the recent backlash by the FDA. From where I sit, we need further industry understanding of how consumers are already using the web for health because the web is fundamentally different from the television medium that so many in our industry remain wedded to.

Pew Internet's report from June 2009, “The Social Life of Health Information,” provides data from which we can work. It reports that 61% of American adults look online for health information. Yet, “social networking sites are used only sparingly for health queries and updates.” We're happy to Google symptoms, but we're not likely to update our Facebook status with a psoriasis flare up.

Social media as a patient tool is a powerful channel for encouragement from friends and family. Patients need to be better linked to their doctors, not linked to ever-growing but perhaps irrelevant health content.

Most of the pharma social media programs I see are using the web as TV—it's content aimed at you, but it's not an interaction that is going to bring you better health. It leaves out so much potential because it excludes the person with the greatest personal reputation: the doctor.

Technology has tremendous power to do more than just serve up content to hungry audiences. It has the power to create completely new relationships and experiences. For pharma, technology could reset the entire notion of marketing as a tool of persuasion.

We hope that, in between further FDA guidance about social media and the end of promotional sales, our industry can focus more on marketing that connects patients where and when it matters most: to their doctor while they're on treatment.

Gene Guselli is co-founder, president, CEO, InfoMedics

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