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Report: Pharma Companies Should Engage On Social Media

January 23, 2014
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Nearly half of pharmaceutical manufacturers are now actively using social media to engage with patients on healthcare-related topics, according to a new report released by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.

The study, “Engaging Patients through Social Media,” found that among the top 50 pharmaceutical companies worldwide, nearly half actively participate in social media on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. However, only 10 companies utilize all three of these major social networking services for healthcare topics, the report found.

While regulatory uncertainty remains a factor limiting social media use, some drug companies are establishing an active digital presence to contribute to the overall healthcare discussion. Advancing social media to a more central position in healthcare—particularly in the appropriate use of medicines— requires improved quality of information, a more proactive embrace of technology tools by pharmaceutical manufacturers, and greater recognition by healthcare professionals of the positive role social media interactions can play in wellness, prevention and treatment, the study’s authors said.

Many companies are using social media primarily as a unilateral broadcasting channel to physicians and patients, with limited interaction or fostering of discussion. Smaller manufacturers with narrower therapeutic focuses and consumer health companies typically have the highest levels of social media patient engagement, according to the report.

To examine the current state of consumer behaviors on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, researchers developed the IMS Health Social Media Engagement Index. The proprietary Index assesses reach, based on the total number of individuals exposed to a message via likes, shares or re-tweets; relevance, the degree that content is found useful and shared across social networks; and relationship, the level of direct interaction around specific content.

Increasingly, patients are turning to social media as an essential forum for obtaining and sharing information related to their health,” Murray Aitken, executive director of the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, said in a statement. “This trend only heightens the need for relevant, accurate content that can be accessed and used throughout the patient journey. Healthcare professionals, regulators and pharmaceutical manufacturers all need to overcome their reticence and acknowledge the vital role that they can and should play as participants in the healthcare conversation.”

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