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What are the potential applications of social media and altmetrics in the pharmaceutical industry?

Altmetrics are now widely used in academia to measure the amount of online attention published content receives on digital platforms, such as news sites and social media. Although global use of social media has increased substantially in recent times, pharmaceutical companies have showed limited interest in utilising information from social media or monitoring digital activities with the use of altmetrics tools. In a recent article in Medical Writing, Martin Delahunty discussed seven pharma-related activities in which social media monitoring and altmetrics tools may have potential applications.

  1. Pharmacovigilance: Social media monitoring of adverse events could complement traditional surveillance methods and has already been explored in the WEB-RADR.
  2. Patient experience: Providing digital and social media tools to better engage with patients and carers may be the future as pharma becomes more patient centric. However, it is suggested that this content and interaction will need to be assessed as accurately and transparently as any other activity in drug development and delivery.
  3. Product marketing: Social media ‘influencers’ may be engaged as advertising partners to promote new drugs or medical devices to their followers.
  4. Clinical practice: In addition to using digital networking communities for sharing clinical opinion, physicians are also active on social media, offering an opportunity for pharma to engage with physicians through the use of social media tools.
  5. Regulatory compliance: Some regional codes of practice exist to ensure pharma companies who do engage in social media activities remain compliant with industry regulations.
  6. Drug development: Social media can influence the drug development process in orphan and rare diseases by allowing study of disease progression at earlier stages, increasing awareness both of the disease and of orphan drug developers, and by facilitating patient recruitment, retention and monitoring during the clinical trial process.
  7. Scientific meetings: The use of social media by physicians increases substantially during scientific meetings, providing an opportunity to facilitate real time scientific discussion and immediate dissemination of key information to a large global audience.

While there are many potential applications for social media monitoring, the pharmaceutical industry remains reluctant to engage in these activities.

While there are many potential applications for social media monitoring and measurements, the pharmaceutical industry remains reluctant to engage in these activities, citing the risk of circulating fake or fraudulent research and misinterpretation or oversimplification of genuine findings as concerns. Nevertheless, Delahunty identified some priority areas for future engagement, including increased interaction in rare diseases and harnessing social media to facilitate clinical trial recruitment, but conceded that existing barriers are likely to prevent social media from supplanting more traditional methods currently used for these activities.

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Do you think the pharmaceutical industry should use social media more for some of its activities?

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