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Social Media in Pharmacy Market Research

We recently attended the Pharma Market Research Conference (PMRC) in Parsippany, NJ. As pharma companies are becoming more focused on consumer research to bring a fresh perspective to projects, this conference was a great opportunity for us to learn more about current trends in the industry.

One of the main topics discussed throughout the conference was the use of social media, and how it can be applied to pharma research. Discussions focused on the benefits of using social media for research purposes (such as instantaneous feedback), but there were also many discussions around the challenges the pharma industry has to overcome when this medium is being used for research purposes.

Here are some key take-aways from these discussions:

  • Due to stricter regulations on what can and cannot be captured and reported, the pharma industry is a bit behind the curve on using social media for market research. At the conference, it was reported that the first use of social media for pharma market research was in 2011, years behind non-pharma companies. Despite this, the frequency with which this topic was discussed shows that more pharma companies are trying to incorporate social media into their research initiatives.
  • Epidemico is the industry's social media platform of choice, primarily because it's the preferred software platform of the FDA. This platform also can map common vernacular social media posts to actual medical terms and ICD-10 billing codes.
    • For example, "I feel dizzy after taking my albuterol this morning" gets tagged as "vertigo," along with the code for treating this condition. This type of synthesis is extremely helpful when analyzing the data.
  • In the example above, "I feel dizzy" is considered an "Adverse Event" (AE). Unfortunately, pharma companies are required to collect this information and report any Adverse Events related to their brands. However, the anonymity of social media removes this obligation, giving pharma companies a "pass" for reporting any AEs.
  • There is interest in using social media to help identify gaps between physician and patient interactions (e.g., what the patient hears versus what the doctor said). This can help correct improper administration of a drug, non-compliant issues, and to see where additional training or educational materials may be needed.
  • Another application of social media research tracked the outcomes of pregnant women who were known to be on certain medications by following their social media feeds. Did they announce the birth of a healthy baby? Does the baby appear to continue to thrive after birth? It was unclear whether or not the women knew they were participating in this research, raising ethical issues. So clearly, the industry will need to better understand the implications of consent and transparency in social media as many would consider this tracking method controversial.

When using social media in market research with pharma companies, it is important to keep these key takeaways in mind. Although there are unique challenges to conducting marketing research in the pharma industry, its goal is still to gain actionable insights to move the business forward, regardless if more traditional techniques are used, or trying new techniques such as social media.

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