In the virtual world of electronic and digital communications, the encyclopedic range of medicines literature is ever more accessible. Social connections are too. Couple this with the outworkings of problems in the supply chain, exemplified neatly by HRT shortages earlier in the year, patients sharing stories, information and even medicines has been commonplace.
So how do we balance the freedom of information exchange between patients, and maintain factual accuracy in the information they consume and share?
How do we ensure they don’t present to prescribers with a decided prescription product in mind?
Patients' research is often well conducted – they are experts by virtue of personal interest. Commendable, yes, but vulnerable to misunderstanding, bias, or “fake news”. And yet they still may know more about their condition than the GP they present to.
Should their hunger for information about, essentially, how to feel better or even live longer, be discouraged? And how can the pharmaceutical industry best support this, to avoid a flashpoint of mutual frustration at the prescribing interface?
“But we as an industry can’t do more!” I hear you say. “Our hands are tied. We have a general public section, and a HCP section, of websites, and after that we need more guidance!”. Au contraire, I (hesitantly, with qualification) say. Clause 26 of the ABPI Code and associated supplementary information tackles this. Companies can host reference material such as SPCs, PILs, registration studies and medicine guides on their websites. They can’t let this information constitute promotion, or an encouragement to request a specific product. For the research hungry patient, surely company drafted material on the product(s) they know most about is a better resource than a Wikipedia page, or twitter thread with tales of “I knew someone who knew someone….”.
Case rulings from the PMCPA recognise the distinction between the general public, and those who have been prescribed a medicine. Companies should carefully consider the need to have three sections to their websites:
members of the general public, and
members of the public who are in receipt of a diagnosis and/or medication.
This is however an area of extreme caution – the information cascade is undoubtedly an art not a science. It takes responsible and careful consideration to get it right, to ensure information is presented without becoming advertising for a specific product. But with a view to patient benefit and safety, it is not impossible and can be done. Companies should have courage to make available appropriate information to all stakeholders, not just HCPs.
who the relevant stakeholders are,
what the greatest concerns or points of confusion are within certain therapy areas for each of these stakeholders,
what questions are frequently asked or can be anticipated with regards your company's product(s),
are there any drug safety considerations with your company's product(s) that should be well known,
what level of information is appropriate (don't assume lowest common denominator as a default), and
consider what types of resources will demonstrate genuine value.
Test, and respond to feedback to ensure the company's investment is worthwhile, and be prepared to update material and resources to keep them current.