IMS: J&J leading the pack in pharma social media

By Jonah Comstock
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IMS graphA new report from IMS Health on the use of social media by pharmaceutical companies finds that among the top 50 pharmaceutical companies, half don't engage with consumers and patients through social media. But of those that do, IMS found that Johnson & Johnson emerged as a clear leader. It scored a 70 on IMS's Social Media Engagement Index. The next highest score, from GlaxoSmithkline, was just 25.

"When we looked at Johnson & Johnson and we looked at their Facebook postings, we found that on average over the last 12 months, their postings received 6.9 comments. That was the highest of any company," said Murray Aitkens, lead author on the study and executive director of the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics in a press call about the study. "I could go down the line: likes, shares, replies by the company, retweets. Across the board, really, Johnson & Johnson is right at the top of the list on each of those metrics."

The report notes that for pharmaceutical companies, decisions about how to engage on social media are more complicated than for other corporations because of the FDA, who just recently published the draft guidance for pharmaceutical company social media use. It's a concern, the report explains, for a number of reasons, including that pharmaceutical companies are responsible for reporting any adverse drug reactions (ADRs) they are aware of. Even by having a Twitter account, for instance, the companies might be responsible for reporting any ADR a user tweets at them.

"For an industry that is used to having a clear framework from regulators, this is a disconcertingly vague environment and has made social media strategies challenging for the pharmaceutical industry," the report says. "There is the concern that investment taken now in the area could be wasted should the current state of affairs change, or worse, that companies may find themselves liable for damages should new legislation be applied retroactively."

IMS Health invented its own index for tracking social media behavior, which weighs the company's behavior and interactions on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. It rates companies based on reach, relevance, and relationship indexes, with the third being a measure of consumer engagement. After GlaxoSmithkline, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer and Novartis rounded out the top five.

The report looked less systematically at health care providers' engagement with social media, but did note that the Mayo Clinic was a leader in engagement.

"While the majority of physicians recognize the important role that the internet has played in empowering patients to make informed decisions, they also warn that a little knowledge can be a mixed blessing when dealing with worried patients," the report reads. "That said, positive comments on the impact of the internet on consultations outweigh negative comments by 2:1. In a survey of physicians conducted for this report, IMS Health found similar trends, with some doctors citing informed patients as a benefit, while other warned of hypochondria, and expressed displeasure with the changing doctor/patient relationship."

In the report, IMS Health also looked at patient engagement with Wikipedia, which they found was a major source for disease information. They found that the top 100 Wikipedia pages related to healthcare were accessed on average 1.9 million times over the last year, with tuberculosis receiving the most views at 4.2 million, and acne vulgaris getting the least views with 1.3 million. As well as patients, the report found that 50 percent of physicians use Wikipedia, particularly for up-to-date information on particular conditions.

IMS tracked Wikipedia page views against related medication sales and concluded that patients were using Wikipedia at various points in their diagnosis and treatment, with young people proving more likely to research a disease before deciding on a treatment, and older people more likely to look for information once their treatment has already begun.

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