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"Friending Pharma": Insights from SXSW

A collection of the wisdom and debate from the SXSW 2012 session on how patients and biopharma companies should best interact. With panelists Michele Polz, Allison Blass, Kerri Sparling and Alicia Staley.


  1. The idea behind "Friending Pharma" was simple: what are the rules that pharma companies and patients should play by when they interact which each other? The answer isn't as straightforward as it is in other areas: no one gets angry at Comcast if they respond to a tweet about a tech support issue. But health care comes with privacy and regulatory concerns, and interactions that might seen natural in other places can appear to some people as creepy. The panelists -- Michele Polz, Allison Blass, Kerri Sparling and Alicia Staley -- wanted to figure out where the line was between helpful and creepy. 
  2. We started by talking about communities:
  3. The natural question, though, for industry, is how you appropriately enter those conversations. The patients didn't think it was rocket science. They wanted consistency and a relationship, not a shotgun approach.
  4. But it's more than just a relationship. It's the context of that relationship. If the context is salesmanship -- like the umbrella vendor tweeting back at those commenting on the rainy Austin weather -- that "creepy" line has been crossed. The rationale for interaction needs to be broader.
  5. What patients don't need? To be treated like would-be pitchmen. 
  6. Of course, there are rules that apply to patients, too, particularly when it comes to disclosure. For the panelists, it wasn't enough just to make their legally required financial disclosures. The commitment to readers goes beyond that.
  7. The panelists -- and a good number of those in the extraordinarily involved audience -- were explicit that it's not a question of whether companies should seek to interact with patients, but how that interaction takes place. (Nearly) everyone wants that interaction.  
  8. But -- and there is a big but here -- the fundamental humanity of the patient experience has to come first. Alicia put it best.