Consensus Gained at the First 2010 HBA Executive Women’s Breakfast: Garner effective support towards acceptance and governance of social media networking in healthcare

Summary: 

Over 60 executive-level women gathered on March 3, 2010, at Novartis Pharmaceuticals in Florham Park, New Jersey, to attend “Making It Work – Regulatory Changes & Sales,” the first of a trilogy of Executive Women’s Breakfasts (EWB) meetings themed: “Positive Transformation in Times of Change.

Charlene Prounis and Julia Kelly
Charlene Prounis, managing partner of Flashpoint Medica and 2010 HBA Star Volunteer and Julie Kelly, 2010 HBA Metro chapter president

Over 60 executive-level women gathered on March 3, 2010, at Novartis Pharmaceuticals in Florham Park, New Jersey, to attend “Making It Work – Regulatory Changes & Sales,” the first of a trilogy of Executive Women’s Breakfasts (EWB) meetings themed: “Positive Transformation in Times of Change.

Julie Kelly, HBA Metro chapter president, opened the program, thanking the sponsor and panel moderator, Meryl Zausner, chief financial officer of Novartis and 2007 HBA Woman of the Year, for their on-going support of the HBA. Randi Schoenfelder, EWB Committee Chair, introduced the panel of industry experts including: John Kamp, executive director of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication, Sherry Fox, president, North America, of THE PLANNING SHOP International and Johanna Mercier, vice president of neuroscience sales at Bristol-Myers Squibb.

John Kamp
John Kamp conversing with several Executive Women’s Breakfast attendees

John Kamp opened the panel discussion recognizing that while our industry’s innovations have advanced healthcare in America, the industry reputation in Washington needs serious attention. “We stakeholders in healthcare must do a better job of helping public policy makers understand the critical role of our industry in advancing public health and patient care,” noted John. “We must be seen in Washington as part of the healthcare solution in America. Otherwise, policy makers will continue to question the industry and seek limits on product marketing,” he continued.

The panel then explored recent regulatory activity relative to pharmaceutical sales and marketing practices:

  • Fourteen FDA warning letters were sent in 2009 to pharmaceutical manufacturers regarding brief Internet (paid search) ads. The FDA charged that these searches on Google and other search engines did not include risk information and were therefore misleading
  • In 2009, the Senate and House debated the elimination of tax deductibility of all pharmaceutical marketing initiatives
  • The concern of policy makers over the use of social media networking and Web 2.0, with off-label promotion and fair balance at the forefront
Jennifer Matthews, Marianne Fray, and Mary Cobb
Animated discussion amongst Jennifer Matthews, managing partner, CementBloc and 2009 HBA Rising Star; Marianne Fray, HBA director of corporate relations; and Mary Cobb, president, StrategicVue and 2010 vice president, HBA Metro Chapter.

The panel then dove deeper into the topic of social media. In November 2009, the FDA held a two-day hearing about social media networking, where Google noted that during just the last 3 months of 2007 there were 4.6 billion searches using healthcare terms made by 111 million people. Google then proposed how a fairly balanced paid search ad, including both benefits and risks in the context of an ad, even with inclusion of a black box warning, could be employed. PhRMA offered a proposal on how to best communicate the benefits and risks of medicines in new, online media, reflecting a positive move towards the use of social media networking by pharmaceutical manufacturers.

How can pharmaceutical sales and marketing executives best use social media to advance healthcare and support patients within the context of this highly regulated environment? It begins with prelaunch market research. “As market researchers, when we prepare for positioning and messaging of a brand, we have an obligation to include only those messages that can be fully and comfortably communicated, based on clinical study results interpretation,” stated Sherry Fox, “We spend hours working with regulatory contacts to make sure that what we bring into research can be used ultimately as a claim in a promotional piece, whether on- or off-line,” she added.

Networking image
Excellent opportunities for networking at this first Executive Women’s Breakfast of 2010

The panel also discussed biopharma communications to customers. “We need to challenge ourselves in light of regulatory changes and evolving technology to reinvent our customer experience in a more integrated fashion,” notes Johanna Mercier. “Healthcare professionals, patients and payers are using many sources and various technologies to get their information across. To keep up, we need to drive towards a more customer-centric approach,” she noted.

It is clear that as we leverage social media networking and Web 2.0 opportunities, we will need to address the following issues:

  • Addressing off-label questions posted on blogs
  • Connecting patients and physicians early in the communication process
  • Leveraging ever expanding modes of technology beyond email, blogs and mobile devices
  • Expanding the use of medical science liaisons
  • Working within the regulatory guidelines
  • Restricting the commercial use of prescriber-identifiable data
  • Providing transparency about the financial relationships between drug companies and medical professionals (under the governance of the transparency bill of Senator Chuck Grassley)
Group image
From left to right: Laurie Cooke, CEO, HBA; Meryl Zausner, CFO, Novartis Pharmaceuticals and moderator of this panel; John Kamp, executive director of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication, panelist; Johanna Mercier, vice president of neuroscience sales, Bristol Myers Squibb, panelist; Sherry Fox, president, North America, of THE PLANNING SHOP international, panelist; Lori Ryan, executive director alliance development, Novartis Pharmaceuticals and 2010 HBA president-elect; Nancy Larsen, president, ProMedica and past HBA president; Julie Kelly, 2010 HBA Metro president.

The panel agreed that it will take the collective efforts of all biopharmaceutical manufacturers to change the face of healthcare. Using technology as a platform, we should take solutions to our policy makers in Washington, so that critical healthcare information is delivered to patients in a compliant and responsible manner. Only then can we show Capitol Hill that we are part of the healthcare solution envisioned for America.

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