Monday, June 25, 2012

Boehringer Ingelheim Shows How to Support Patients via Twitter and Beyond

One of the uses for pharma Twitter accounts that many ePatient advocates recommend is to directly support patients seeking help regarding their Rx products (see, for example, this Pharma Marketing News (PMN) article: "Use of Twitter for Patient Support" [free pdf]).

Although nearly two-thirds of respondents to a PMN survey thought that using Twitter for patient support activities would be somewhat or very effective, relatively few pharmaceutical companies are doing this on a regular basis. From time to time, however, I do see it happening.

Today, for example, I discovered that Boehringer Ingelheim tweeters in Germany (@boehringer) responded to a tweet from a U.S. caregiver who was seeking help in purchasing Spiriva HandiHaler for her mother. First, this person complained to @BarackObama because of the high cost of the product:
@BarackObama @Messina2012 cam some1 tell me y my moms ESSENTIAL medication is $135.00 a month? That's 2 MUCH 4 some1 on a fixed income :-(
She then followed up with a tweet sent to the attention of @Boehringer:
@Boehringer hellol My mother needs 2 purchase Spiriva HandiHaler & her insurance wont cover it. Are there any coupons or assistance 4 this?
Although @Boehringer is the German-based Twitter account of BI, it did respond. Here's the conversation:

I commend BI for using Twitter to carry on a conversation about a product rather than just providing @Shaundre an 800 number to call. Also, BI -- in Germany -- has taken the extra step in contacting the US office on @Shaundre's behalf. Good job, BI!

Note that BI first asks if @Shaundre spoke to her (or her mother's) doctor about the issue. Preserving the patient-doctor relationship is important when pharma deals directly with patients or caregivers. About 57% of respondents to the survey mentioned above were of the opinion that use of Twitter by pharma for direct-to-patient support activities could be viewed by physicians as coming between them and their patients. Only 30% said these activities would not interfere with the patient-physician relationship.

UPDATE: @boehringerus, BI's U.S. Twitter account, posted this tweet:
@Shaundrie: Thank you for your message. Send your contact info to and we will contact you directly.


  1. Anonymous3:09 PM

    I think it would have been real interesting if the conversation would have gone exactly the same way if the request was to help her "mom purchase the Spiriva HandiHaler which works great for her COPD" - you would hope so but there might have been less back/forth. As it was put out there, no need for PI since no claim with product mention (generic name wasn't there either but that's probably easier to get past)

    1. Good point about more freedom to communicate if indication is not mentioned. @Shaundrie can make product claims without "fair balance" whereas BI cannot -- the question is (as you point out) whether BI would have been comfortable responding to a tweet that included the product name & indication. In the conversation above, @@Shaundrie responded to BI's tweet about it's COPD Inspired image contest -- that's how I surmised her mother had COPD.

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