CommonSense Blog

How Physicians Can Maintain Transparency on Social Media

By Eileen O'Brien | Mar 01, 2016

In 2016, it should be no surprise that many doctors have translated their offline influence into social influence, sharing health information with colleagues and patients. While HIPAA and the need to maintain patient privacy are well understood by physicians, what is less understood is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidance on social media. In order to protect the general public and ensure that online influencers are transparent about payment and gifts, the FTC issued Endorsement Guides. The FTC suggests that this be accomplished using hashtags such as #ad, #paid, #sponsored or #promoted in posts.

STATNews recently highlighted a few physicians who did not make their relationship with biopharma companies readily apparent when commenting on the company products. When we work with physicians to educate them on using social media, central to this effort is how to use it appropriately, including an explanation of the FTC regulations. The FTC notes that “if there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer that consumers would not expect and it would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed.”

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What’s a Physician To Do?

If a physician is working with a biopharma company and is being compensated for their expertise as a key opinion leader (KOL), we recommend that this be disclosed. One way is to add a hashtag with the name of the company and the acronym KOL (#CompanyKOL) to social posts. This makes it clear that the physician has a relationship with the company. In order to provide this clarity, one of our clients requests the healthcare professionals use #spokesperson in their posts. And, because the relationships between healthcare professionals and biopharma companies can be multi-faceted, another way to highlight the connection is for the physician to add a link to in their bio that explains the details, such as involvement in clinical trials.

It’s also important to note that, similar to bloggers, the physicians are not being paid for their positive opinion, but for their expertise. Consumers want to hear from physicians and learn from them. It’s just important that the context is apparent.

Always Keep Fair Balance in Mind

Many physicians also aren’t aware of the complex Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations on promoting drugs. This includes the need to include “fair balance” (i.e. if you feature the benefits of a medication, you need to equally feature the potential risks). The FDA is clear that this requirement needs to be maintained even when there are only 140 characters on Twitter. A link to the important safety information does not suffice.

When working with influencers, whether patients or physicians, we always share the FDA and FTC guidelines so that they can make educated choices when sharing on social. No matter who you are, authenticity and transparency are essential to building relationships via social media.