It’s hard to watch even an hour of T.V. in the U.S. without seeing an ad for one prescription drug or another. All countries, except the USA and New Zealand, ban pharmaceutical companies from advertising directly to consumers because doing so can interfere with the doctor/patient relationship. People see ads – created by profit-seeking pharma companies – and then ask their doctors to prescribe the medication. So instead of doctors being able to draw on years of medical training to form his or her opinion, selecting from among a variety of drugs that they find best, they are pressured by patients to prescribe who are influenced by biased advertisements.
Even though these ads are legal in the U.S., the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors and regulates them. In a recent example, the FDA made Bayer issue a correction to their Yaz birth control commercial because the original ads were misleading. In the new Yaz ad, the spokesperson says “You may’ve seen a few Yaz commercials lately that were not clear. The FDA wants us to correct a few points in those ads.”
Now drug companies are expanding beyond T.V. commercials and print ads. They are posting content on the Internet, via sites like YouTube. Last year Johnson & Johnson launched a YouTube channel that airs health information videos. This year, AstraZeneca and Sanofi-Aventis are following suit – and taking it a step further. In addition to information, the new sites will include patient testimonials. On the AZ site, “patients will get the chance to make short videos about how asthma affects them, and send the videos directly to the AZ for publication.” What’s the catch? Since this is about sales and corporate profit seeking, users will be censored. There will be no mentions of competitors’ treatment options –natch.
Will the FDA be able to monitor everything posted on the web? And how will they regulate “patient testimonials”? The FDA is set up to regulate companies, not individuals. Will this new form of advertising further interfere with the patient/doctor relationship? A quick search of the FDA site shows they are already monitoring YouTube and web pages. Here is an example of a warning letter sent to a pharma company.
BioJobBlogger explains the one-sided advantages of YouTube for drug companies: “…it can leverage the current social media craze to increase its visibility, sell more drugs and bolster its stock price! “
Furthermore, PharmExec.com says, “they don’t have to worry about negative comments being left after a post (YouTube comments can be turned off), and they can brand and edit the content as they see fit, tailoring the programming for a particular audience. Videos can also be removed as needed.” It is not surprising that drug companies are delighted that viewer comment features are optional. If you are a pharma company concerned with product sales, who needs or wants the prospect of negative comments posted by users? Only happy customers will get to talk about their experiences on the Pharma YouTube Channels.
I wanted to note that parts of blogger, BioJobBlogger’s post, are copied directly from PharmExec.com, without giving any credit to PharmaExec. BioJobBlogger hat tip’s EyeOnFDA.com but doesn’t mention PharmaExec. This copying and pasting without proper attribution constitutes plagiarism, something we see all-too-often on blogs. It is imperative that everyone–including bloggers–correctly cite their sources to give proper credit. We have written to BioJobBlogger’ to ask for a response and correction.