PharmExec Blog

Live from ePharma Summit 2008: When Will Pharma Get into Social Media?

Bob HarrellThe topic of healthcare is more discussed on the Internet than Britney Spears—and it’s second only to money. But pharma still hasn’t managed to harness the Web to its full potential. That’s the consensus of a panel of industry experts at this year’s ePharma Summit, taking place today in Philadelphia.

The biggest reason? Fear. It once was considered too risky to use Web 2.0, user-generated content, and social netoworking, said Daniel Palestrant, CEO of the online doctors’ site Sermo. “But more and more CEOs are now saying that it is too risky not to do something like that. People forget that blockbuster drugs come out of situations where the outside gave to the inside.”

“Last year, user-generated content was heavily discussed,” said one attendee. “But a year later, I am concerned that we haven’t moved forward. Do we understand the role of pharma in generating user content?”

Palestrant’s reply: “Patient-support programs are on the cutting edge. [Pharma companies] are doing it successfully, and there is exciting movement.”

Bob Harrell, director of e-marketing at Shire (above), explained that the company has identified online opinion leaders and shared programs with them. “It’s phenomenal how much you learn about what they care about and where they go for content,” he told the audience.

“I see a day when FDA and pharma will be working together on this,” said Kevin Nalty, product director at Merck. “It is vital to the industry. Back when the Internet formed, they were apprehensive about posting brand sites on the Internet.”

What’s the cutting edge for Big Pharma? The panel liked, which has 147,000 users on its community board discussing their experiences.

Sound like a recipe for disaster? Not necessarily, said Melissa Davies of Nielsen Online: “There is a high level of responsibility among patients who do talk [online about their conditions and treatments]. There is little brand bashing, mostly just experience sharing among patients. There is a high level of trust for those who have walked the path before.”

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