Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Blogging Irony is Rich!

...And they picked me because of my good looks and charm?!?!

So, here's one of my company's latest initiatives - spinning the blogosphere.

Yes indeedy, my company has hired vendors to monitor disease-related blogs and noticeboards, in order to see what kind of bile is being spewed by consumers, I mean patients!, about our products. And soon, we are hoping to influence some of that discussion. The plan is to hire medical professionals to log on to sites where there is negativity about our products, and try to steer the conversation in a more positive direction. Currently, we are planning to have these hired guns identify themselves as healthcare professionals, but not mention that they are (indirectly) on the company payroll, or connected to us in any way.

This is one of those things that you always suspect is going on in the blogosphere, but it is startling to actually hear that we are going to put it into practice. The net-savvy may catch on to this effort quickly, and identify our guys as company people. I hope so, anyway.

So what's my involvement? I've been asked to help out on a team that will evaluate the regulatory impact of the vendor involvement, specifically from a drug safety perspective. If these vendors are company agents, and one of the medical professionals that we've contracted with reads about an adverse event while participating in a discussion, what should they do? We are choosing to not identify these folks as company agents, at least initially. If they read on a board that product X killed someone's mother, what's the reporting obligation? Does that information constitute a legitimate report, with all of the required elements - identifiable patient, drug, event, and reporter?

The identifiable reporter is the sticking point. An anonymous blogger is arguably not such a reporter, but if I'm chatting with someone, would I have an obligation to ask that blogger to contact me or the company, explaining who I am? That would break the "cover" of our blogger, but good safety reporting should trump, right? If we get an email directed to the company about an adverse event, we record that event in our database, but the report remains "suppressed" unless the reporter also gives us more than just their email address. If we don't get a name or address, we email them back and ask for it. If they reply with that information, the case then becomes part of the database. I believe this is standard industry practice. We need a real name at least.

I'm not sure what our team may recommend. I've certainly browsed websites in the past that discussed my company's products, and even saw people mention what are clearly adverse events, but I never reported them to our safety department. But then, I've never done anything other than read the sites, not participate. Is there a meaningful difference, though? What do you think?