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Pharma and the patient bloggger: why and how to engage – whydot pharma

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This is a great post from WhyDotPharma about the relationship that can and should exist between pharmaceutical companies and patient bloggers. The interview is with Manny Hernandez from TuDiabetes.com; a social network for people living with diabetes. While there are many things mentioned here that would raise an eyebrow or two with medical, legal and regulatory folks in pharmaceutical companies, the thinking is right on.

Full post here:

Pharma and the patient bloggger: why and how to engage – whydot pharma.

Excerpts after the jump.

Why do you think it is important for pharma and patient bloggers to collaborate? What is in it for the patient? What is in it for pharma?

Recently, Amy Tenderich mentioned something that is very true: we depend on each other. People with chronic conditions need their therapies to survive and obviously pharma companies need to  sell their drugs to “survive” (as a business).

However, there are elements beyond the health benefits for the patient and financial benefits for the pharma company:

  • Health bloggers and online health community leaders represent patients: in a sense they either are the voice of the patient or give patients a place to express themselves. Since patients are pharma’s consumers, this in itself is a very important reason for pharma to collaborate with patient bloggers.
  • Through patient bloggers, pharma can remind itself of the people that ultimately benefit from their work: the patients… how they feel, how they react, how they see their treatments and the makers of their treatment. These are very valuable insights to improve the company and its products.
  • Through a dialog with pharma, patients can get to see the human side of the industry. I have had the fortune to meet lots of caring individuals that are working in the pharmaceutical industry, because of something that touched them – a relative with a disease, they themselves suffering from a health condition, etc. This experience was driving them to try to help others. These stories get buried beneath the facade of the monolithic and apparently soulless pharma company that can be easily perceived as a drug-making marketing machine.

Connecting with health communities can be more challenging, since online communities, unlike blogs, have multiple voices in them. This leads to much more diverse kind of conversations. Yet, these conversations take place whether pharma wants it or not, whether they want to participate in them or not.

What should a relationship between a pharma company and patient bloggers look like?

There are two  important things I can think of :
1) Trust needs to be at the top of the list of things to ensure at all times: there needs to be clarity about who is writing and what potential drivers, motivators or conflicts the person may have.
2) Social media is NOT traditional media: it is conversational. Therefore conversations should take place in an organic fashion.

This will prove to be interesting in light of FDA requirements as far as language goes, but there are some very creative people in pharma – I am sure they can think of ways to comply with regulations and be conversational at the same time.

What specific actions should a company engage in to start the relationship and build the trust? Anything to avoid?

I have found many pharmaceutical companies  use agencies to help with this kind of process. While this is understandable, it can feel a bit removed as an approach: sometimes you never even get to talk to anyone in the company…

If the pharmaceutical company is genuine about its commitment to participate in conversations in social media, it needs to come closer to the front and be a part of the conversation with the blogger early on. There’s room for agencies to support strategy building and implementation, but pharma needs to be there in the calls, in the meetings, in the conversations…

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