August 16th, 2011

Pharma-Page Facebook Commenters, Start Your Engines

The Wall Street Journal

Social media can be a minefield for pharma companies given the FDA’s requirements to keep product information fairly balanced and promote only approved uses of drugs.

Until now, Facebook has helped drug companies control the information on their sponsored pages by disabling the comment function. That’s supposed to end today. As the Washington Post reports, most pharma pages — except those for specific prescription products — will now allow reader input. (The change doesn’t seem to completely be in effect yet.)

“What [Facebook says] is that their philosophy is about promoting dialogue, and this wasn’t doing that,” Monique Levy, vice president of research at Manhattan Research, a pharma and health-care market research firm, tells the Health Blog.

Some companies are removing certain pages for different disorders or patient communities rather than worry about the implications of comments, the WP reports. Here’s a page from the Dose of Digital blog that lists the pages removed due to the new policy.

Dealing with a real-time stream of comments from consumers is “very difficult” for pharma companies because communications are so regulated, Levy says. “It’s really hard to have a live interaction.” Still, pharma companies will retain the ability to delete comments on their Facebook Walls after the fact, the same way any other user can.

Pfizer explains on its page why it might need to remove comments — for example, if a user references a side effect that needs to be reported to the company or the FDA.

Dose of Digital notes that some pharma pages have already been allowing comments, and that none of them have been warned by the FDA because of comments that have been posted. The FDA last year did chide Novartis over a “Facebook Share” widget on the drug maker’s website for cancer drug Tasigna, but because it ran afoul of FDA regs about disclosure and permitted claims in marketing materials.

The FDA hasn’t yet weighed in on how pharma should be using social media without running afoul of the agency’s rules. A Deloitte report released in December said that’s part of the reason why some life-science companies are staying on the social-media sidelines.

When guidance does come, it’s not expected to be specific — say, with detailed instructions about what’s permitted in a Tweet vs. a Facebook comment or sponsored online patient forum. “Media is changing too quickly,” says Levy.

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