Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Boehringer Takes My Advice and Will Host the First-Ever Disease Condition TweetChat: #COPDChat

Two-and-one-half years after AstraZeneca hosted the First-Ever pharma Twitter chat (see "OMG! AstraZeneca Hosts Twitter Chat & World Does NOT End!"), Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) has announced that it will host a #COPDChat Tweet Chat at European Respiratory Society (ERS) 2013 Congress, Mon 9 Sept @ 5pm CEST. BI registered the #COPDChat hashtag with Symphur just a week or so ago. This, however, was not the first use of the #COPDChat hashtag.

I first suggested that BI host a #COPDChat back in November, 2010:
"It appears to me that a pharma-hosted Twitter chat about a disease condition would be of high interest to consumers and patients. Boehringer Ingelhiem (BI), for example, could host a COPD Twitter chat in conjunction with its DRIVE4COPD campaign. BI has a DRIVE4COPD Twitter account (@DRIVE4COPD) and has used the #4COPD hashtag (infrequently), but I haven't seen any regularly-scheduled chat (eg, #COPDChat)." Read more about this here: "Will a Pharma Company Ever 'Host' a Chat on Twitter?"
I am happy that they finally took my advice :-)

[Actually, this is not technically the FIRST disease condition TweetChat hosted by pharma. BI also hosted #ChatAFib, a live TweetChat event which took place on 2 September 2013 during #ESCCongress2013. The participants discussed cardiovascular disease and thrombosis in women. Find a transcript of this chat attached here.]

Only 6 tweets have ever been made so far (as of 7:00 AM US this morning) that include the #COPDChat hashtag and I was the first to use it on 10 November 2010. That tweet included a link to the blog post above. (See Twitter search screen below; click for an enlarged view).

You can follow the #COPDChat via BI's "NewsHome" page dedicated to the chat here. The invitation states: "Join us for one of the first ever #COPDChat Tweet Chat live from the European Respiratory Society 2013 annual congress (#ERS2013) on Monday 9 September at 5pm CEST and discuss the latest 'hot topics' in #COPD with leading experts. We'll be chatting about the role of dual bronchodilation in COPD, discussing whether there is a need for new treatment options and whether digital COPD tools can improve patient care and disease outcomes. Don't miss out!"

The NewsHome website "is intended for journalists or healthcare professionals outside the US/UK who are interested in media information from Boehringer Ingelheim." OK, but anyone in the world can access the site or use Twitter itself to follow and participate in the chat.

I am not sure what regulations apply to non-UK/US pharma-hosted chats such as #COPDChat, but there are several non-regulatory reasons why pharma companies have not hosted more chats:
  • Pharma companies are concerned about being overwhelmed by adverse events that may pop up in tweets during a chat session that they host and/or moderate.
  • Pharma companies are concerned about "off-label" promotion that may be made by chat participants.
  • Organizing and moderating a chat requires too much effort and is too risky.
  • Once you start a chat, it's very hard to control the message.
  • Consumers don't really want to chat with pharma companies.
AstraZeneca's groundbreaking #RxSave Twitter chat demonstrated that a pharma company can manage a successful Twitter chat for consumers/patients despite the challenges listed above. It was for that reason that Tony Jewell, who at the time was Senior Director of External Communications AZ, was awarded the second Pharmaguy Social Media Pioneer Award (see here).

The #COPDChat is intended for physicians and the news media. It is NOT intended for patients and consumers, although there is no way that the general public can be excluded. Therefore, it seems to me that BI has to assume consumers will be at least "lurking" and may also be posting. The self-regulatory code of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) specifically prohibits Twitter chats even when "intended" for physicians only. The code states:
"If a company wanted to promote a medicine via twitter it would have to ensure that if the medicine was prescription only, the audience was restricted to health professionals and that the message, in addition to any link to further information, complied with the Code. In addition companies would also have to ensure that recipients had agreed to receive the information. Given these restrictions and the character limit on twitter, it is highly unlikely that the use of this medium to promote prescription only medicines would meet the requirements of the Code. Using twitter to alert health professionals about the publication of a study on a medicine is likely to be considered promotion of that medicine."
BI is a member of the ABPI, hence the reason for its disclaimer that #COPDChat is not intended for a UK audience. It remains to be seen, however, if such disclaimers carry weight with the UK's Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA), which oversees ABPI's self-regulatory code.

I am not sure who at BI is responsible for the Twitter COPD account and #COPDChat (see BI's comment to this post for the answer). There are several people I know who may be involved, including Faith Busch (@faithandcomm), John Pugh (@JohnPugh), and Judith von Gordon. I have added these names to my "Who is a Pharma Social Media Pioneer?" survey, which helps me determine who should be the recipient of the Fourth Annual Pharmaguy Social Media Award

Meanwhile, you can listen to my podcast interview of John Pugh and Judith von Gordon: "Pharma on Twitter: Boehringer Ingelheim"


  1. Hi John,

    We love this article!

    We do have one comment. You mentioned, "I am not sure who at BI is responsible for the Twitter COPD account and #COPDChat" -- our Boehringer Social Media Team is actually now comprised of Judith von Gordon, Jaclyn Fonteyne (@jaclynfonteyne), and Patricia Alves (@patriciafalves).

    Regarding our hashtag #COPDchat -- Great minds think alike!! We're excited to engage with you more as our #COPDchat nears! We hope you can join us.

    Feel free to contact us with any questions about #COPDchat or our new team members. We look forward to speaking with you again soon!

    Kind Regards,

    Your Boehringer Social Media Team

  2. Hi John,

    Interesting piece, although I am not sure ABPI code as written above prohibits tweetchats. Clearly, promoting medicines via Twitter is a big no-no, but if the intention of the tweetchat is to understand disease area issues and challenges (ie. more about research, as I see this as doing) and is not mentioning specific products or data related to them why would it contravene the code?

    I was involved in the earlier #ChatAFib tweetchat and have to say it was a really worthwhile initiative, from my vantage point. We were not overwhelmed with AEs (there was one comment during the hour long chat which was dealt with appropriately) and some really interesting feedback was received. I know the participants also found it useful to be able to directly engage. Whilst this was also aimed toward HCPs, I would not agree with the statement that 'consumers don't really want to chat with pharma companies' - pretty much all of the patients we have spoken to and interviewed via pharmaphorum want to have more dialogue with pharma.

    Protecting patients from inappropriate promotion is of paramount importance, but conducted properly these tweetchats are a fantastic way of helping pharma better understand disease area issues, which can help develop better medicines IMO.


    1. Paul,

      I agree that these are worthwhile initiatives and as long as BI does not mention product names and data, then it should be OK. I just wish regulatory agencies could quickly publish their own opinions of specific TweetChats like these rather than promise one BIG guidance trying to cover every possible scenario. If these were cited as "regulation OK" then more pharma companies might follow the lead. Right now, it's regulation via silence, which can be broken at any time as did the FDA's famous 14 warning letters!

  3. Paul,

    Regarding your consumer poll -- of course most consumers than visit a site like yours or mine WOULD be interested in having more dialogue with pharma -- it's a self-selected group. Also, i am not sure what "dialogue" means in this context. Is it one-on-one privately or via a public tweet chat specifically?



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