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The Pharma Obligation to Social Media by David Hunt


Social media debate, by David Hunt

The patient population is at our finger tips. Technology has provided a broader platform to witness their frustrations, build lasting relationships and work collaboratively to improve outcomes. The pharma industry invests billions in the development of new treatments; they are bold, courageous and imaginative in the pursuit of scientific excellence. Yet, with a few exceptions, remain anxious, nervous and paralysed in social media. The changing environment demands industry innovation and outcome based funding. If science will be at the heart of that drive, social must be the catalyst.

Fear of a brand name?
We invest millions in building a brand, yet remain terrified of its mention in public. Of course, we cannot publicly announce our treatment and associated scientific benefits, and yes we have an obligation to ensure it is not miss-represented either positively or negatively. But are we really at fault if a member of public chooses to discusses our brand in a fair, valid and experienced manner? We live in a free world, and an increasingly global community, we must engage if we have valuable information & insight. Do we not have a moral obligation to respond with valuable insight? Why would we leave Wikipedia with data we know to be inaccurate, when it’s widely considered to be the first point of reference? The vast majority of the general public are wholly unqualified to comment on disease, symptoms, side effects or treatments, but do so with the vigor of a grand-parent championing chicken soup. We have the knowledge, rigor and expertise to harness valuable patient experiences, real-life events and dialogue to support broader society.

But what if we came across an adverse event?
What if we don’t? We all have an obligation to report adverse events. Beyond the rules there is a moral obligation. Many months ago I witnessed a psychiatric nurse discussing how, with appropriate permissions, they monitored patients on twitter – AMAZING! If the NHS can find the time & resource to use social media in such a smart fashion, then big pharma must follow suit.

We’ll be accused of #badpharma and dishonesty!
That is true whether you participate or not. I’d advocate participating and whilst you would never directly challenge an individual, voicing your position to a broadly smart community can only be more positive.


The approval process takes too long.
Social media is not just publishing content. It’s about listening. It’s an opportunity to hear from patients. It’s about understanding challenges & frustrations and working to address them. That alone is worth embracing the social world. It isn’t a fad, it’s been around since society – the playing field just got bigger.


As I often discuss, I’m proud to work in pharma. We make a difference, and we improve outcomes. Scientists & their amazing work will be at the heart of that success, but with the necessary courage communications experts can be the key.

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