Pharma insight on digital marketing, social media, mobile apps, online video, websites and interactive healthcare tools
by Dominic Tyer
There are no plans to produce more social media guidelines for UK pharma, but that shouldn't stop companies from using the technology.
That was the message from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), whose web editor Melanie Quashie spoke at SMI's Social Media In The Pharmaceutical Industry Conference earlier this week.
“If your objective is to benefit the patient, and you're working within the boundaries of the Code of Practice, then there is nothing stopping companies embracing social media and taking the opportunity that it presents,” Quashie said.
“We know that we work within a highly regulated industry, but if companies can apply the Code of Practice to other forms of media then why should digital be any different? It is now in the hands of industry to push the boundaries and scope of digital media, while still working within the Code of Practice.”
Acknowledging that the 'digital revolution' offers pharma “tremendous opportunities to engage with key stakeholders”, the ABPI has formed a digital media working group to address the needs of its member companies.
This sees the Association collaborate with the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA), its arms-length Code regulator, to determine “what support, if any, member companies would really find useful”.
To date the digital media working group has looked at UK pharma's use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels, and discussions have also focused on how case studies could be used to illustrate different ways of using social media.
But at its recent second meeting it was decided that producing new guidance would only increase confusion levels, rather than address the needs of pharma companies that are at varying levels of progress.
Quashie said: “With the rapid pace of change in digital media, if we had bowed to pressure and produced guidance 12 months ago, this would have been out of date as soon as we'd written it.
“While there are some groups that have called for more comprehensive guidance on digital communications, this is not necessarily the consensus.”
Instead, the ABPI will ask its member companies to look again at the existing guidance and then say where their needs lie and what else they need in the way of support.
Last June, the ABPI's Pharmacovigilance Expert Network produced adverse event and product complaint guidance notes that covered blogs, tweets and other online medical communities. And in April the PMCPA issued 'informal guidance' on pharma's use of digital communications.
“Our position as an organisation is quite straightforward,” Quashie said. “The ABPI supports the appropriate and strategic use of digital communications.”
Quashie added that social media offered a cost-effective way to reach stakeholders, and there was “great value in learning more and being connected to your community in a two-way conversation”.
“Communicating and interacting with stakeholders via digital channel presents significant, often mutually beneficial, opportunities,” she continued.
“If you are not engaging in this space then others will do so on your behalf and without your input there is a danger that theirs will be the voice of authority.
Although the speech's timing, just one day before the PMCPA ruled on a new social media breach of the Code, could be seen as curious by some, the ABPI denied it was a reaction to the Allergan Botox tweet case.
A spokesman told PMLiVE: “The ABPI learn of breaches to the Code at the same time as everyone else because we are, of course, separate from the PMCPA.”
He added: “Regardless of specific cases, we advise companies to have procedures and guidance in place to govern their use of social media.”