We all know social networking as a major time-suck, real-time news source, and practical job-hunting tool. We also know that patients can often get better health information from the web than they can from their health care provider (e.g. WebMD.com). When ‘social networking’ meets ‘the search for health information’ we get online patient communities. Facebook, Twitter and GetSatisfaction are just the tip of the social iceberg. PatientsLikeMe and CureTogether are just two of the best known of dozens of web-based social networks for patients. The NY Times calls patient-centered social networks a “Lifeline for the Chronically Ill.” For medical device companies, patient-centered social networks bring new challenges and new opportunities.
As online communities have evolved from BBS’s and usenet groups, to forums and yahoo groups, to social networks and blogs, the quantity and quality of direct patient-to-patient interaction has dramatically increased. In March 2009, an article in Forbes called these new patient-centric social networks a disruptive innovation in patient care (Disruptor of the Month: Creating A New Kind Of Health Care Community by Renee Hopkins Callahan). If you’re developing a novel device or a novel procedure, there’s a chance you are already the subject of an online patient conversation. The more patient-facing your product (either used-by or implanted-in a patient), the more likely patients will share their experiences with each other online.
Any day now, the FDA is expected to issue some of its long-awaited guidance on its approach to the regulation of social media and the internet. Social media, though, does not move on the FDA timeline. While this blog post may need an update when that guidance comes out, medical device companies are already way behind the social media curve.
What does online patient interaction mean for medical device companies? How can medical device companies interact successfully with patients online?