Pharmaceutical companies should embrace social media such as Facebook and Twitter, despite the regulatory limbo in which certain questions remain unanswered, according to an attorney.
Smart use of social media can help drug and medical device companies engage with the public in beneficial ways, said LeClairRyan attorney Patrick J. Hurd in a recent online column published by Corporate Compliance Insights.com.
In the column, titled “Who’s Afraid of Facebook? Pharma Can Afford to Speak Up Via Social Media,” the veteran health care attorney -- who is a senior counsel in the Norfolk, Va. and Washington, D.C. offices of the national law firm -- notes that enough bright lines can be gleaned from FDA warning letters, draft documents and other resources to enable the industry to leverage social-media tools in useful ways.
“Arguably, many companies could do more on this front,” he writes. “After all, doing so allows them to be proactive about the benefits and risks of their products. This can go a long way toward building trust with consumers.”
Hurd cites the progress that drug and device companies such as AstraZeneca have made in adjusting to the realities of online media.
As outlined in a white paper on its Web site, the pharmaceutical giant’s five overarching principles regarding social media use happen to double quite well as a description of the kinds of objectives that other companies might consider as they steer their own social media efforts, he notes.
Hurd encourages companies to put together a dedicated team to tackle social media issues from A to Z and also describes several useful resources that can be applied toward this end. Those resources include Webicina, a free Web site created by blogger, medical futurist and physician Dr. Bertalan Mesko.
But challenges remain. He gives an example of a potentially vexing scenarios that could spell headaches for the industry: A podcaster with a huge audience speaking and tweeting about the off-label use of a drug or recounting anecdotal reports of adverse reactions.
“Because anyone, anywhere, can chime in via social media, it is critical that companies have a coherent policy that is thoroughly understood by drug reps, agents and employees at all levels,” Hurd writes. “Precisely who can use social media on behalf of the company -- and exactly the types of things that can and cannot be said -- must not be left to chance. When it comes to social media, everyone in the company must be on the same webpage, so to speak.”
And while battling myths and misstatements in the wilds of the Internet is not easy, one could argue that the industry has no other choice, Hurd writes.
“Twitter, Facebook and the like are now inseparable from our national conversation on public health,” he notes. “And that conversation, including its complex iterations online, is simply too important for the industry’s voice to be absent or drowned out by the opinions of the uninformed.”
The full article is available here.