A lot can be misconstrued in the silent world of the Internet. While online technology has changed the communications paradigm, it also has resulted in bad information, embarrassing typos, factual errors and malfeasance.
Fake Web sites, botched emails, rambling blogs and photo abuse appear in cyberspace every day. Most of it is innocuous. But the stakes are higher for the medical community as it adapts to and enters the digital realm.
“In today’s world, in addition to traditional sources of medical product information, patients and health care providers regularly get information aboutFDA-regulated medical productsthrough social media and other Internet sources, and those technologies continue to evolve,” wrote Thomas Abrams, of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion, onthe FDAVoice blog. “But regardless of the Internet source used to communicate about medical products, the public health is best served by clear, accurate, truthful and non-misleading information about them.”
The agency has acknowledged the convenience, importance and popularity of social media as a resource for the medical community and industry-at-large by developing a set of best practices for current and future sites. The best practices come in the form of two proposed guidances, the goals of which are to help companies state the purposes of their products with the utmost honesty.
Both guidances relate to medical devices and prescription drugs.
“These documents strive to ensure that the information provided by drug and device companies is accurate and will help patients to make well-informed decisions in consultation with their health care providers,” Abrams wrote.
The first guidanceaddresses posting information to Twitter and paid-search sites that have character limits. The task of presenting the benefits and risks of a product in 140 characters or less can be daunting – and dangerous. Both sides of the story need to be told, and a link or a phone number should be provided to give consumers a way to get more information from the company or an additional source.
The second guidancerecommends ways for companies to correct information relayed about their products online, whether in a blog or on a Facebook post, whether negative or positive.
“We developed these new guidances, in part, to respond to requests for best practices from companies and other stakeholders,” Abrams wrote. “We gave careful thought to our draft recommendations, and we understand technology will continue to evolve.”
Because of the inherent risks posed by medical devices (defects) and prescription drugs (addiction), and their respective benefits (improved lifespan and disease prevention), the agency prioritized the proposed guidances.
“As a regulatory agency, we are committed to ensuring that the information about these products that their manufacturers and distributors direct at patients and health care providers is accurate and balanced,” Abrams wrote.
This article by Ben Atkins co-lead of the digital practice at Chandler Chicco Companies offers advice on "someone" [inside pharma, I assume] should consider "if asked to edit a healthcare-related Wikipedia page."
The advice includes:
1. Monitor Wikipedia pages To start, monitor the pages relevant to your company, your products and to the diseases you treat.
2. Set parameters for engagement As part of your social media policy and governance, define and agree the parameters your company will follow to engage Wikipedia.
3. Work through the talk page, and avoid editing the page directly Wikipedia frowns upon any perceived conflict of interest. The safest approach is to recommend an edit, additional text, or a new section, by using the 'talk' page.
4. Stick to the facts and don't be promotional
5. Recommend edits and don't seek to rewrite entries Taking the extra step of providing a rewrite vs concisely correcting specific inaccuracies or by sharing a link to the PI as a potential new reference may be perceived as influencing content.
6. Use judgement Regulatory guidance remains to be clarified; this means there remains an element of uncertainty.
I think Atkins forgot one important piece if advice.
When former Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, M.D. said, 'Drugs don''t work in patients who don''t take them,' he could never have imagined the crisis in medication compliance would reach multi-billion dollar proportions - but it has.
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