One Small Step for Social Media Junkies, One Giant Step for Pharma-kind

I’d planned to fold my hands and participate only with my eyes and mind during Pharma’s first foray into the world of the mysterious, often untamed Twitter chat (#Rxsave). But after @AstraZenecaUS’s first question: “What is best way to increase awareness of prescription savings programs?” – how could I not jump in?

A pervading answer to this important question was – educate those who reach patients: patient advocates, e-patients, and Health Activists! In order to do this, of course, Pharma must commit to presenting Health Activists with helpful boundaries: what they can and cannot say, what language to use, and be crystal clear about the message they want to communicate.

While many Health Activists are of the non-conformist sort (free-thinkers who have strong opinions they will most definitely share!) – they are also fiercely dedicated to helping others in any way they can. That is why I know they would abide by any of these to-be-established boundaries that Pharma would hypothetically construct (with some inevitable hand-binding by the FDA). I know Health Activists who cannot wait to share even the most minute “a-ha” moment they come to when finally seeking insight into the labyrinthian world of Pharma and regulations. Trust me, you can trust them.

As Phil (@PhilBaumann) mentioned in his important blog post, “But in future chats, the message of the chat shouldn’t be Social MediaThe message should be the person who needs to be heard.” Phil is completely correct – social media junkies are great – but we need to get the people who will benefit from the actual prescription savings (and education about adherence, etc) to have a voice. Those who could really use the prescription savings AZ is working to promote. But as my colleague Mandy (@mandylipka) mentioned, “We have to start with the power social media users, the patient advocates and activists, and this will buy Pharma time to get its act together. Pharma is the youngest in this space but is the one that hopefully will benefit the most. But we are not there yet.”

A question that stuck out to me was “How can we reach people who do not use social media, who are of older or less affluent demographics?” How can Pharma get through to them about these new savings programs (or any other messages they need to send)? My unelaborate answer to that is: mobile (apps and text messages) and print for doctor’s offices and support groups. An idea that I loved, is to educate caregivers – they are “the sandwich generation” (quote by @ncoaging). Caregivers are able to educate both the older and younger generations that they care for. @Noaging suggested reaching caregivers through employer benefit programs.

And we can’t yet discount those old dusty boxes, our televisions. With television ads comes the need to speak in a language lots of people can understand. Health literacy advocates had a soft, but integral perspective to add last night. Pharma must consider those who cannot comprehend their jargon but who could truly use those Rx savings. This can be accomplished, again, through awareness and education.

And this is where I started my post. Health Activists! Harbingers of those two principles and bastions of passion for helping others. Smart, early-adopters who may know their way around a hashtag or two but still foster the good old-fashioned desire to help others. A desire that won’t be silenced – despite even the most complex ISIs (Important Safety Information) and regulatory restrictions.

I commend AstraZeneca – someone has to “go first.” And, (I’m repurposing one of my favorite quotes from Health Activist Wheelchair Kamikaze) we cannot forget that the FDA still has Pharma “by the naughty bits.” As commenters on the ePharma conference said – we’re all waiting impatiently (and, honestly, with a bit of that “air out of tires” sound – whoooosh of disappointment) for their “ruling” on where Pharma can go from here.

Lastly – a shout-out to my friend Alicia Staley for, basically single-handedly moderating and leading us all in the #Rxsave chat. She somehow kept up in real time, Retweeted all of @AstraZenecaUS’s questions, and offered brilliant points of her own as a cancer survivor and Health Activist.

But what do you think? What is your take on the #Rxsave chat and, maybe more importantly, Pharma’s foray into social media? How can Health Activists educate their communities about prescriptions?

(Check out the whole chat transcript here if you want to catch all the great discussion)