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“It's getting that content right, getting that tone right."

How should drugs be spoken about on social media?

The FDA has this month launched a study into the pharmaceutical industry’s use of social media to promote medicines, including linking to risk information.

“Prescription drug regulations require a fair balance of the content and prominence of risk and benefit information in prescription drug product claim promotion,” says the FDA in its call for submissions.

“The rise of internet communications that have character space limitations, such as sponsored link promotion and microblog messaging, has led to questions about how to use these communications for prescription drug promotion while complying with the fair balance requirements.”

It is the latest in an effort by the US agency to provide pharmaceutical companies with guidelines for using social media.

Apparently companies had been using links to risk information until in early 2009 when the FDA warned them against it, leading to the current industry-wide reluctance to do so.

Mark Senak, a senior vice president at PR firm FleishmanHillard and author of the Eye on FDA blog, told STAT that the ‘one-click scenario’ for risk information will open up the social media space for pharma companies.

“The digital milieu is where patients learn about health care. It’s one of [the] primary places where they go,” he said.

“It would free up the environment in which companies communicate about products. But it would have taken them seven years to get to that point.”

A 2015 study by Ohio State University researchers looked at pharma companies and the way they provided drug information on social media.

Published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the article sought to address concerns that have been raised about pharmaceutical companies marketing their drugs directly to consumers on social media.

The researchers found that US pharmaceutical companies avoid making drug product claims on their social media accounts but frequently post content that can be considered direct-to-consumer advertising.

They also found thousands of people view content posted by pharmaceutical companies on social media; users also share company postings making both direct and indirect influence possible.

People were also likely to be exposed to drug product claims and information about illegal pharmacies when searching for information about popular pharmaceutical drugs on social media.

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