Very carefully. Using constrained media (apps where you don’t have enough room to really spell things out, like Twitter or Instagram) to pitch the products of companies that support us as physicians is tricky territory. How we handle conflict of interest with digital media needs discussion.
Proper disclosure of conflict of interest is hard to achieve
Solutions for disclosing COI that fit the bill are hard to find. There are those hashtags that you think might disclose a relationship. Some use bitly links to connect to conflict of interest statements. But we know that the clickthrough rate on links is dangerously small.
In most cases the ambiguous attempts at disclosure aren’t intentional. I just haven’t seen a way to do it that’s clear within the limits of a product like Twitter.
On any form of digital media it should be clear to the typical user that a doctor has a relationship with the stakeholder. Ideally, the consumer should be able to understand that relationship. If a physician doesn’t have the room to properly disclose their conflict of interest in the topic under discussion, they probably need to be careful talking about it. They should save it for a place where they can spell things out.
Standards of disclosure vary by profession
Standards of disclosure vary by profession, of course. With digital and ad agencies who are known by virtue of their work to be representing companies, a designation of ‘#client’ on Twitter has obvious meaning.
Physicians and health professionals are different. The viewing public doesn’t typically identify physicians as representatives of companies. And while we can look to the Federal Trade Commission to help us understand the boundaries of the law, physicians are held to a higher moral standard when it comes to relationships and influence.
The digital thought leader brings new opportunities for influence
While I prefer to bring solutions rather than problems, I don’t have a good answer here. I’m just suggesting that we need to be careful in order to maintain the trust of the consuming public.
As I described in 2012, we are seeing the rise of the digital thought leader. And as more physicians draw substantial followings we’re seeing new ways to exert influence. And this is far more evident now than in 2012 when I first identified this issue. Digital conflict will require special attention both from those who create media and those who consume it.
The discussion is not necessarily at odds with industry support or consulting as much as how we manage the potential for conflict that can arise from these relationships.