[Below is a blog post that someday SOON may appear on a PHARMA Co Blog such as AZ Health Connections, which recently posted a notice about “AstraZeneca And Doctor Speakers Programs” (read it here). I substituted “patient” for “physician” in the following post to illustrate a point.

In this new social media era, where there is much discussion about pharma participating in patient discussions online, there is a possibility that pharma will hire influential online patients to act as “opinion leaders” just as they have hired physicians to be key opinion leaders (KOLs). Patients have already been hired by pharma companies and their agents to troll patient sites for comments made by patients online (see, for example, “Did J&J Troll Social Media Sites to Ensure Its Motrin “Recall” was a Secret?“)].

Beginning soon, news organizations will be publishing a series of stories examining the financial relationships between patients and the pharmaceutical industry. Their focus will be on payments made to patients who serve as “social media moderators” or “opinion leaders” on behalf of companies and their medicines.

PHARMA Co would like to provide our perspective on the issue by having Marie M. – PHARMA Co’s US compliance officer – answer the key questions we’ll be asked by reporters in coming years.

Why does PHARMA Co engage with patients as moderators/opinion leaders?
Marie: PHARMA Co works with online patient opinion leaders (POLs) or moderators to provide other patients online with accurate and balanced information about the use, safety, benefits and risks of our medicines. POLs have the expertise and credibility necessary to educate colleagues to ensure they have the information they need to make informed treatment decisions.

Patients ultimately benefit when they are well informed and knowledgeable about our medicines, treatment options and standards of care.

Why does PHARMA Co pay patients to participate?
Marie: It is appropriate to compensate POLs for the time they dedicate to providing information to other patients about our medicines and who act as moderators of our online discussion boards. Patients who tweet or post information online about our medicines are compensated at a fair market value based on their qualifications and the amount of time they dedicate to the task. We never pay patients in exchange as an incentive to promote our products.

There currently is NO cap on how much each POL can receive from PHARMA Co each year.

How does PHARMA Co ensure laws and industry policies are followed?
Marie: Before a POL can tweet or post information on our behalf online, they must participate in extensive training on our medicines, policies, and the laws and regulations that apply to industry-sponsored presentations. Actually, however, there are NO laws and regulations that apply to industry-sponsored tweets and posts made by patients online. But, be assured, our policies prevent the company from paying POLs in exchange for asking their physicians to prescribe our medicines or as an incentive to promote our products.

How does PHARMA Co select patient opinion leaders?
Marie: There are several criteria that PHARMA Co evaluates when a patient is nominated to be a tweeter or online poster on behalf of the company, including positions within leading online patient social networks, national patient advocacy organizations; membership in special patient opinion leader networks such as WEGO; consistent tweeting and posting records; participation in research trials; and regularly tweets or posts information online.