The winter of 2007 was a turning point for online health journalism: in a matter of weeks, Ed Silverman’s Pharmalot launched, quickly becoming a cheeky blog of record for the industry, and the Wall Street Journal began its Health Blog, giving one of the most influential print publications an online home to drive the health news of the day. Four years later, both sites — an countless other blogs, Twitter accounts and the link — have made online pharma news a ubiquitous and vital part of the information ecosystem.
Now industry is catching up, not just by the numbers (there are now literally hundreds of pharma blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages) but in tone. Because online has long been a place where human conversations trump corporate-speak, it’s important to flag great examples where the industry begins interacting with a human touch.
This month, two pharmaceutical-industry giants took big steps towards demonstrating that human touch. The first was the launch of a log by PhRMA, the industry trade association **. The Catalyst, as it is called, is still in its early days, but it’s already showing the power of engagement. The regular postings aren’t stale regurgitation of taking points, but thoughtful feedback to the news of the day, responding to news articles and blogs, musing on what the Jeopardy-playing robot Watson might mean for medicine and celebrating Valentine’s Day with heart-healthy tips.
And last week, AstraZeneca waded into new territory by hosting a “tweetchat”: a focused, all-comers exchange on Twitter. The event focused on prescription drug costs, tracked the hashtag #rxsave. The event was not exactly a meeting of the like-minded: it brought out fierce critics of the company, and it doesn’t appear than a hour of typing changed any minds.
But it might have changes some hearts. “Soulful Sepulcher,” a patient advocate, unabashed critic and vocal participant in the tweetchat, wasn’t mollified by the responses. But she got an audience with AstraZeneca, and that was hugely important. “I WAS HEARD BY ASTRAZENECA,” she tweeted. “All that matters now.”
The launch of a blog and the initiation of a single tweetchat doesn’t signal a new era in industry communications. But like the appearance of Pharmalot and the WSJ Health Blog four years ago, these may be early signals of a coming sea change.
** WCG consults with PhRMA.