Twisted Knickers, Patients, and Social Media

Author: Jonathan Sackier

Intriguing enough opener for you? Okay, so here is what has got my knickers in a twist.  AstraZeneca, a very creative pharma company that has brought useful drugs to market approached FDA to provide guidance that would allow them and others to utilize social media to give patients better access to information. Here is a direct quote from the document recently brought to my attention:

Protect and Advance Patient Health: Facilitate patient access to quality information for use with their physician to improve their health and protect patients through encouraging accurate and timely reporting on medicine safety.

So what is wrong with this? NOTHING, that’s what! Other than that we are having this conversation at all. For goodness sake, the Constitution talks about the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Surely seeking answers to health issues figures in all three? Yet we now have a society where we are so politically correct we have to ask permission about everything, and everything merits yet more blasted legislation.

Look, I feel that most people are decent and try their very best to do a good day’s work. People screw up sometimes – if that failure was an honest mistake, then okay, educate and guide them. If their error was one of commission, then punish to the full extent of the law. But don’t impose daft laws—don’t hinder progress. And I am afraid to say that the way we are heading is unhealthy (forgive the pun).

I have to say that I am a bit of a Luddite and have been dragged kicking and screaming into this century. I finally got a PDA, I grudgingly signed on to LinkedIn, and I have even agreed to serve on the board of a social media healthcare company. And, that is the true stimulus for this blog. This new company was started by a frighteningly smart young man, and he is only 21! His motivation? Not to make a gazillion bucks but to affect social change.  He has had a series of knee operations and has been a victim of everything that can go wrong in medicine. He believes in patient power and as a doctor, so do I.

I was fortunate enough to be involved in a couple of surgical innovations.  In each case, a blend of professional communication—articles in learned journals, podium talks and the like—and good old-fashioned TV, radio and newspaper interviews led to increased awareness that allowed better care for more people. If patient information is communicated honestly and transparently, if we share experiences, if we agree that as humans we are fallible, then society as a whole benefits.

Social media, obviously, has the power to do this many times more effectively.

In closing, I admire AstraZeneca’s position and just hope we can reach the day when we can all talk freely without a bunch of attorneys looking over our shoulders.  And, yes, some of my best friends are attorneys.

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