Thursday, July 28, 2011

Who will Drive Social Media Use in Health Care? Part 3

This is the last of a three part series examining how various groups will drive social media use in health care.  Part one considered the impact of physicians and part two discussed the role of the pharmaceutical industry.  This week’s post examines the evolving and growing role of the federal government, particularly the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).    
HHS has become an active participant in social media with its role extending well beyond regulation.  As the HHS Center for New Media observed, social media tools enhance the government’s ability to share information with stakeholders, increase public engagement and participation and improve collaboration within and across departments and agencies.  
HHS: social media champion
HHS created its Center for New Media to actively promote and support social media adoption throughout the department.  The site contains extensive information for HHS agencies on why social media is important, how to get started, what tools are available and policies governing social media use.  Agencies within HHS have responded enthusiastically.  As of July 2011 there are 96 Twitter accounts, 64 Facebook accounts, 32 blogs, 24 YouTube channels, 9 Flickr accounts and 41 podcasts.  These social media channels represent a wide range of agencies within the department, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Agency for Health care Research and Quality (AHRQ), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and others.     
Some agencies within the department, such as the CDC, have developed considerable social media expertise.  An excellent example of this expertise is the CDC’s publication, The Health Communicator’s Social Media Toolkit.   The CDC recently demonstrated its mastery of social media with the wildly popular Zombie Apocalypse post on its Public Health Matters blog.  The post, written as a way to get the public interested in disaster preparedness, was so popular it ended up crashing the CDC website.  To date there have been 341 comments on the post.
Promoting education, engagement and collaboration
As an authoritative source of health information, HHS is using social media to educate and engage patients and clinicians on a wide range of health issues.  The campaign is an outstanding example of how the federal government has used social media campaign to communicate with and engage the public about seasonal flu vaccination.  In addition to providing information about the flu, HHS is also using crowd sourcing to create educational campaigns. The CDC’s Flu App Challenge recently awarded $35,000 to nine developers who created mobile and web apps, games and other tools designed to raise awareness and educate consumers about the flu.  In 2009 HHS sponsored a  video PSA contest on flu prevention.
Another interesting example of social media use by HHS is the AHRQ’s Effective Care Program.  This site is designed to help both patients and clinicians determine the best treatment options for a variety of diseases.  Additionally, the AHRQ allows visitors to suggest topics for upcoming treatment guides. The AHRQ also encourages sharing and promotion of its clinical information.   It has created widgets which allow clinicians and other professionals to embed links to AHRQ reports within their websites or blog.  
HHS is also using social media to foster collaboration and encourage innovation among scientists and industry leaders in the public and private sectors.   Through its Health Data Initiative, HHS, in collaboration with the Institute of Medicine, is expanding public access to its abundant health data.  Its stated goal is to “harness the power of data, technology and innovation to improve the health and welfare of the nation.”   HHS has used social media tools, including a blog and Twitter account to promote awareness about the initiative.  In June 2011 it sponsored the 2nd Annual Health Data Initiative.  The event, attended by members of the scientific and business community, was streamed and tweeted live (#healthapps). 
Promising signs
Finally, HHS is using social media tools to communicate directly with external audiences.  On July 19, 2011 the FDA released  its proposed regulation of mobile medical apps.  That same day the FDA hosted a Twitter chat to answer questions related to the proposed regulation.  As noted on the Wego Health Blog, the use of a Twitter chat seems ironic given the FDA’s delay in issuing guidance on social media regulations for health care companies.  Still, it is encouraging to see the FDA actively participating in social media, a medium which it will be monitoring and regulating.  

At a time when the US faces rising health care expenditures and numerous public health challenges, the widespread adoption of social media by HHS is an unexpected bright spot in the health care landscape.  

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Who will Drive Social Media Use in Health Care? Part 2

This is the second of a three part series examining how various groups will drive social media use in health care.  Part one considered the impact of physicians.  This week, I examine the evolving role of the pharmaceutical industry.   Though pharmaceutical companies have been slow to embrace social media, their usage will accelerate as a result of increasing clarity in regulatory guidance, industry advocacy, the growing influence of online health information and changes in pharmaceutical marketing tactics.

Lagging regulatory guidance, growing industry advocacy

Pharma’s lag in the adoption of social media has been due largely to a lack of guidance from the FDA.   In November 2009 the FDA hosted a public hearing on social media use by pharma; however, it has delayed issuing final guidance several times.  Most notably, the FDA just dropped social media from its 2011 guidance agenda.  Despite the delays, Tom Abrams, director of FDA’s Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising & Communications (DDMAC), maintains that publishing guidelines is the highest priority. 

In the absence of FDA guidance some firms are creating their own policies.  In August 2010 Roche disclosed its social media principles.  AstraZeneca followed in December 2010 with the publication of a white paper outlining its guidelines for social media use by the pharmaceutical industry.  More recently, in May 2011, medical blogger Dr. Bertalan Mesko launched the Open Access Social Media Guide for Pharma.  The goal of the project is to allow collaborative creation of guidelines that pharmaceutical companies can use to develop and refine their own policies.  Lack of FDA guidance may have slowed adoption of social media by pharmaceutical companies but it has not halted it. 

Social communities as a source of health information

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, patients are turning to online social communities for information on illnesses and therapy.  As noted in the blog eyeonfda,  if pharmaceutical companies do not participate in this space they will be allowing their brands to be shaped by outside forces.  The use of branded social communities, executed responsibly, can be a win-win situation:  social communities can provide patients with credible medical information about managing their health and pharmaceutical companies can build valuable relationships with patients; however, this potential has not been realized.  Many firms do not currently allow unmoderated patient comments in their social communities due to regulatory and liability concerns.

In August 2011 pharmaceutical firms will be forced to address the issue of community moderation.  Effective August 15, Facebook will require that unmoderated comments be allowed on all company pages, including those maintained by pharmaceutical firms.   Some predict pharmaceutical firms will abandon Facebook; however, there are signs that others will stay. Janssen already allows patient comments without pre-screening on its Psoriasis 360 Facebook page.  In July 2011, at the Social Communications & Healthcare Conference in New York, Ray Kerins, VP, Worldwide Communications for Pfizer, commented that Pfizer is planning to maintain its Facebook presence and has developed a plan to deal with the new Facebook policies. While the August 2011 deadline only pertains to Facebook, it will certainly shape the industry's use of all social platforms. 

Beyond patient engagement, the pharmaceutical industry may also turn to social media as a way to connect patients to clinical trials.  A recent white paper by Blue Chip Patient Recruitment addresses the use of social media in this area.  Recently, Pfizer announced it will use social media to engage patients during an upcoming clinical trial. 

Changes in promotional tactics

Pharmaceutical firms will expand their use of social media to communicate with physicians in response to marketing challenges.  Physicians are becoming more difficult to see and the number of pharmaceutical sales representatives has declined over the past decade.  Closed social communities offer pharmaceutical firms an alternative way to communicate with physicians.   Some firms have engaged with physicians indirectly, such as Pfizer’s collaboration with Sermo.  Other firms are establishing their own communities.  Consider iPractice by Sanofi-Aventis.  According to the site: “iPractice was created by Sanofi-Aventis U.S. exclusively for doctors.  It’s a hub of resources, tools and product support and information designed to help alleviate the burdens associated with running a practice.”   With this site Sanofi-Aventis has combined both product promotion and value added services in a secure physician community.  Of course, full access to the site requires physicians to register by providing information which will presumably be used by Sanofi-Aventis to target promotional activities. 

Today’s modest use of social media by members of the pharmaceutical industry hints at its huge growth potential.  As clearer guidelines emerge we should see realization of this potential. 

In part three of this series I’ll consider the role of the federal government in driving social media use in health care.