As of 8/15/11, Facebook required pharmaceutical company pages to allow consumer comments to company postings. This is on the Wall section of the page. Some drug companies have taken down their pages, others have left it up with ongoing monitoring to watch for side effects, comparative drug comments, or other things that could cause regulatory problems. FDA has not yet issued its long awaited guidance on how drug companies can use social media.
The key issue is what is the drug company responsibility for consumer comments? If a consumer posts a comment that is untrue, is that company liable for any action that results? How soon must they respond to a factual error? How quickly must an erroneous comment be taken off the site? These are difficult issues requiring FDA guidance and legal advice. Talking to consumers or allowing consumers to talk to each other is both useful and dangerous given the consumer propensity to speak without accepted evidence. Their comments are anecdotal and may not reflect clinical reality.
Most drug companies are going to have to have a full time monitor, and that means 24/7, to avoid legal issues. That monitor needs to be very well trained and an expert on many areas to properly decide what is allowable. Until FDA guidance emerges, I suspect most drug companies will just pull their pages or keep up only disease state pages, not company or brand pages.
I am a big believer in drug companies getting direct consumer feedback. What other industry tries to avoid product feedback or suggestions on how to improve them? The drug companies have had an odd relationship with their end users. Of course we all know that there are legal vultures looking for any reason to sue them. In defense of drug companies, maybe their “I hear nothing” attitude is safer.
What is clear is that our communications have advanced far beyond our regulatory capability to adapt. People use social media and our government needs to accept that reality, rather than have everyone else work under regulations written in the 1970’s. Enough time has passed to expect DDMAC guidelines to be finished. DDMAC is made up of intelligent people who are trying to do their best to work within their ridiculous outdated Congressional statutory framework. That may be their constraint but we as consumers count on them to do what is best for us, not cite some Jimmy Carter era rules as the reason not to act in a timely manner. DDMAC, can we at least get these by end of 2011? Or alternatively, just give us a date, any date when we can have the new guidelines?
Bob Ehrlich, Chairman
DTC Perspectives, Inc.