Facilitating Communications in Social Media – Pfizer, Epocrates, FDA and NIH

I promise this isn't Pfizer week here at Eye on FDA, though it might seem that way.  Yes, my posting yesterday was about their clinical trials information on a special clinical trials YouTube channel.  And today, Pfizer announced that the company was partnering with Epocrates on a new program that I thought noteworthy on a number of levels.  So it is two social media stories in a week that coincidentally, involve the same company.

For those of you not familiar with it, Epocrates is a company that provides healthcare professionals with support by accessing clinical information for use in decision-making and to find answers quickly through Web-based and mobile products.  One of the product areas that the company offers to healthcare professionals are apps for i-Phones, Blackberries, Android systems and Palm.  And the company states that 40% of U.S. physicians are using their products which are designed to help "reduce medical errors, improve patient care and increase productivity."  The press release from Pfizer states that, according to Manhattan Research, 72% of physicians now have some sort of smart phone and that in two years, that will increase to 80%.  

Enter Pfizer.  Through its collaboration with Epocrates, Pfizer will be providing direct access for healthcare professionals to its own Medical Information Group directly through Epocrates "to obtain scientific answers to their product questions or to report an adverse event." 

What it seems is brought by the partnership is direct access of physicians, through the middleman (Epocrates) to the manufacturer (Pfizer).  According to Freda C. Lewis-Hall, M.D., FAPA, and senior vice president and chief medical officer at Pfizer, "Healthcare providers have told us they would like direct access t our medical specialists so they can communicate with us in an open, unbiased manner.  They expect rapid and tailored scientific responses to their medical questions about our drugs.  Our hope is that the introduction of this new and innovative feature on Epocrates enables doctors and other providers to enhance the care they can provide to their patients using Pfizer medicines."

Last week, the FDA announced with NIH a new portal for reporting safety issues with medical and pet/animal related products.  It does not now, but presumably in the future will allow for the direct reporting of adverse events experienced with human drugs and biologics.

With the introduction and rapid uptake of social media, the issue adverse event reporting has been a source of concern among many in industry.  

Thaw  The fact is that the growth of social media will necessarily enhance communication and that part of that communication may be about adverse events.  Fear of participation in social media because of concern about adverse events is like fearing answering the telephone because one is worried it could be an adverse event call.  It is, after all, not the medium that generates the adverse event report. Social media is a definitely the catalyst for faster and more participatory communications, but it is still just the means for communications.  

The FDA and NIH portal will certain provide the means for a more participatory environment for adverse eent reporting when it comes to encompass human drugs.  And the Pfizer/Epocrates partnership may be an indicator that the social media "freeze" brought on by adverse event reporting concerns in industry may, in fact, be thawing.  

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