This article in Stat, As social media ‘influencers,’ patients are getting a voice. And pharma is ready to pay up, raises questions about pharmaceutical supported patient influencers.
An entire industry has cropped up to link drug makers with the industry’s own version of an influencer — people, usually patients, who have small but devoted followings and who might be willing to promote their products or share valuable insights about the patient community….It’s a lucrative new frontier for drug advertising — and for patients, too, who benefit from close contact with the drug maker and, often, a fee. But it is also an increasingly regulated frontier, and one with ethical quandaries that some experts say the drug industry hasn’t fully considered.
What we’re seeing here is the effect of medical microcelebrity. As individuals create value and trust with their wisdom and content they attract eyeballs. Where there’s attention there’s money. And where there’s money there’s the potential for conflict.
How do we protect patients from patient influencers?
So it raises the uncomfortable question: How do we protect patients from patients? That is, how are unknowing health consumers protected from patient influencers who are paid to leverage social channels in the interests of the pharmaceutical industry? It becomes an important question because of the implicit trust of the patient voice.
Patient representation is critical to the health care conversation. And just like any valued knowledge worker, a patient’s time spent in the capacity of professional advocacy warrants fair reimbursement. The challenge in protecting the interests of health care consumers rests with disclosure of the relationship.
Disclosure of conflict may be difficult on social channels
Conflict of interest needs clear disclosure at the point of communication or engagement. And this kind of disclosure can challenging with constrained media (places with limited space for explanation). On Twitter, for example, if a reasonable person can’t understand that you have a relationship with the product under discussion, it may not be the appropriate forum for that kind of dialog. How physicians should handle conflict of interest on Twitter is a good starting point for discussion.
This patient quote from the Stat piece is important, “There’s no amount of money that’s going to get me to say something I don’t believe in.” While I don’t doubt this, human nature suggests that what we come to believe is often shaped by our relationships. And paid relationships can be particularly powerful.
Patient voice is critical. The patient influencer voice supported by third parties needs critical thought. As I suggested here not long ago, “managing conflict isn’t just the law, it’s what we owe our patients. It’s not just for doctors anymore.”
If you like this post you’ll probably like the 33 charts Digital Influence archive. This collection of writing deals with the emerging challenge of influence that comes with new media. There are now lots of places to share information and shape opinions. The concept of digital influence will require special attention both from those who create media to those who consume it. Click through, poke around and enjoy!
Image modified via Cody Board on Unsplash