Pfizer and Sermo — a Web-based community where physicians share observations from daily practice, discuss emerging trends and provide new insights into medications, devices and treatments — today announced a “strategic collaboration designed to redefine the way physicians in the U.S. and the healthcare industry work together to improve patient care.”
I don’t know about “improving patient care,” but this deal sure seems likely to improve Pfizer’s access to physicians, which, if typical of the industry as a whole, has been waning due to physician push back and state laws limiting free gifts to physicians, among other reasons.
At the core of the agreement between Pfizer and Sermo is the only form of free gift to physicians that Pfizer and other drug companies have left to give: drug treatment information without the pushy salesperson.
That, of course, leads to the issue of off-label promotion as pointed out by Ed Silverman over at Pharmalot:
“Of course, this opens a Pandora’s box. There’s nothing to say Pfizer or any other drugmaker shouldn’t participate in online forums. But the venue could, conceivably, create myriad scenarios in which, say, off-label info is conveyed or trial results are somehow whispered prematurely or selectively.” (See “Pfizer Strikes Deal With Sermo’s Online Doctor Forum“.)
“The FDA, if it pays attention [my emphasis], will likely have its bureaucratic hands full keeping track of countless postings to ensure such agreements don’t devolve into one large, ongoing and inappropriate marketing machine.”
Despite the recent passage of PDUFA, which gives FDA more money and power to review DTC ads, it does not provide more funds to FDA to review online promotions aimed at consumers OR physicians. It’s still a WILD, WILD West out there in Web 2.0 land as far as the FDA is concerned.
Pfizer plans to pursue a number of other objectives through its collaboration with Sermo, including:
- Discover, with physicians, how best to transform the way medical information is exchanged in the fast-moving social media environment
- Create an open and transparent discussion with physicians through the innovative channel offered by online exchange
- Engage with the FDA to define guidelines for the use of social media in communications with healthcare professionals
- Work with physicians to develop a productive exchange between pharmaceutical professionals and the Sermo community
#1 suggests that this collaboration is merely an experiment or “pilot,” which is the traditional way pharma companies have approached the Internet. $Millions are spent, nothing much accomplished, and the project is forgotten. Who at Pfizer, after all, is really in charge of digesting the results of this experiment? No one, really. Product managers don’t care about “transforming the way medical information is exchanged.” They care about transforming the way scripts are written for their products. It’s strictly “show me the money!” with them. That’s why only 3% of pharma marketing budgets is devoted to the Internet.
#2 is what I discussed above. It’s really nothing new — pharma companies have been educating physicians within their online communities since 1994 when I first started doing this kind of thing with a company called “Physicians Online,” which was acquired by WebMD a long time ago. Let’s move on; there’s nothing to see here (at least nothing we haven’t seen before).
#3 — LOL! How can you engage the FDA if it’s head is in the sand or some other orifice that shall go unnamed?!
#4 is an interesting objective that I would like to learn more about and explore with you in the future. Stay tuned!