Looks like the FDA will soon be taking up the issue of how drug and device companies can use social media like blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. According to the NPR Health Blog, key issues to be considered include:
1) What online messages and chatter are regulated companies responsible for? And what’s not their problem?
2) How do companies comply with existing regulations, requiring such things as fair balance in ads, within the confines of, say, a 140-character tweet?
3) When does a company have to correct misinformation posted by third parties? Hello, Wikipedia! Some companies, the FDA said, haven’t taken action on known problems, fearing they’d then be responsible for correcting everything anywhere online.
4) To link, or not to link? is the FDA’s question. Specifically, FDA wants to know what sorts of linking is appropriate and when users find it misleading.
5) The bogeyman in the social media closet has long been chatter about side effects and other problems with products. When do companies have to report these bad experiences as recounted on the Web to FDA?
Pharma companies tend to have slick websites, but I’ve been less impressed with their forays into other areas such as blogs. Even their DTC advertising doesn’t strike me as that sophisticated or effective. And as I’ve written pharma companies have been pathetic at using Twitter. Sure the rules are unclear about what they can do, but why aren’t they at least sitting on their corporate and brand names rather than letting random people grab them up?
I think any attempt by FDA to issue guidelines in this area will be problematic. The new media themselves are evolving rapidly, and it’s unclear exactly how things will shake out over the next several years. The best we can hope for are a set of principles.September 22, 2009