Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Can Pharma Use Social Media to Provide Patient Support?

This morning, I received a note from a visitor to Pharma Marketing Network. It was submitted via one of the forms I have on the site. It said:

'I have a low-income friend, 69 yrs of age. She is almost a cripple without celebrex but Humana refused to pay for it altho the Dr. orders. Is there a program that could help her get the celebrex.'

Well, there is a program, which you can find on Pfizer.com here. [The image on the left is in the header of Pfizer's "helpful answers" Web site. I am a little confused by this image, which outlines people's heads with medicine bottles, Rx pill containers, and cups. Why was that necessary?]

Pfizer's "helpful answers" site offers a pretty comprehensive list of assistance programs offered by Pfizer, the pharma industry in general, and by the government.

Why didn't this person go to Pfizer.com (or celebrex.com) where this information can easily be found? I don't know. But maybe she trusts me more than Pfizer or Celebrex marketers.

All the talk about how to use social media to drive consumers to branded Rx sites without pissing off the FDA (aka violating FDA regulations) is really about how to use social media to advance pharma's self-centered approach to marketing, the goal of which is to answer the question "How can I get the consumer to do what I want?"

Using social media to answer THAT question is a fruitless enterprise. The Levemir Tweet heard round the pharma marketing world (see here) is an example. Who among the 300 or so people who read that Tweet gives a crap? Nada! They didn't ask for it and they got nothing out of it.

But social media will eventually force pharma to shift from "marketer-centric" push messages to "consumer-centric" pull messages. That is, marketers will be pulled into responding directly to consumer inquiries such as the one above. When the response is published within a social media application such as a discussion forum, it benefits everyone else reading that message who is faced with a similar problem.

Maybe Celebrex is not indicated for treating crippling conditions and the FDA would not want to see that mentioned on a Pfizer site. Do you think for one moment that the FDA would slap Pfizer with a warning letter because it allowed the question above to be posted to a site that Pfizer maintains or sponsors? Even if the letter came, the answer from Pfizer would have been received and people would have been helped.

No, the FDA is not the problem.

The above message also says something not too nice about one of Pfizer's main customers: a big insurance company that probably has lots of other Pfizer drugs on its formulary. Pfizer wouldn't want to piss off Humana, so it would be in a conundrum about how to handle such a message.

Can it redact part of the message as in: 'I have a low-income friend, 69 yrs of age. She is almost a cripple without celebrex but [her insurance company] refused to pay for it altho the Dr. orders. Is there a program that could help her get the celebrex.'?

I dunno. Consumers may not like it that Pfizer edits user-generated content. Pfizer would have to have a clear publicly-stated policy about that and even then it may not be acceptable.

My reason for posting this is to point out that:
  1. patients need support and social media may be one way to provide that support so that the answers/knowledge can be shared by the whole community, and

  2. there's more than FDA regulations to worry about when implementing such an application.
Unfortunately, I do not have all the answers. Maybe someone reading this can help.


  1. Anonymous10:46 AM

    I wouldn't be so sure that any of the Pfizer programs would provide assistance. We went through this with my grandfather and another Pfizer product that was successfully treating his pain, but considered off-label use. The insurance refused coverage for this purpose despite numerous phone calls from the physician's office explaining that nothing else was working. We contacted Pfizer to see if he could get the drug through one of their programs as he could not afford paying 100% of the out-of-pocket cost. We were told if he has prescription drug coverage, he would not qualify for any of their programs and there was nothing they could do for him.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Pfizer could have been more helpful in their response.

    They could have suggested this option, for example: "Free Prescription Drug Cards" http://www.news.pharma-mkting.com/pmn56-article03.pdf or http://www.talk.pharma-mkting.com/show046.htm

    Not sure those would help either.


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