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FTC Complaint on Pharmaceutical Interactive Marketing: A Different Perspective

Posted by | 12:29pm on Friday, December 3, 2010
spiral staircase

I have dedicated my career to using this medium – ethically and responsibly – to educate and inform patients 

On November 23, 2010 the Center for Digital Democracy, U.S. PIRG, Consumer Watchdog, and the World Privacy Forum filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over “unfair and deceptive advertising practices that consumers face as they seek health information and services online.” The groups’ 144-page FTC filing was also sent to Dr. Margaret Hamburg of the FDA and members of Congress. The press release summarizes the report.

The detailed report pulls information from industry publications, blogs, press releases and event agendas. Multiple pharmaceutical companies, advertising agencies, service providers and organizations are referenced. The list of interactive techniques that “pose threats” includes a variety of accepted pharmaceutical marketing practices such as e-detailing and unbranded disease awareness sites.

Internet Initiatives Follow Existing Guidelines
In the absence of specific guidelines for pharmaceutical advertising on the internet, pharma applies the FDA’s existing guidance. Many of the tactics sited in the report adhere to current guidelines. It would appear that the motive of this complaint is to spur the FTC and FDA to create policies for pharmaceutical marketing using the internet and social media. The industry would very much welcome guidance.

Privacy Concerns
The document does raise valid concerns about online profiling and behavioral tracking for health purposes, however this is lost in the general condemnation of all interactive marketing from pharmaceutical companies. Discussions and debate around privacy are important and should be encouraged.

Pharma Brings Value
The report does not recognize the value that pharmaceutical companies bring to the online space. As the only regulated source for prescription medications, pharmaceutical sites play an essential role. As a pharma interactive marketer, I have dedicated my career to using this medium – ethically and responsibly – to educate and inform patients and healthcare providers. Particularly in the rare disease space, pharmaceutical companies offer valuable interactive resources for diagnosis, treatment and support. I look forward to receiving guidance from the FDA on how I can continue this important mission.

What do you think about this issue?

(Image courtesy of Aidan McManus on Flickr)

About Eileen O'Brien

Eileen has more than 16 years of digital healthcare marketing experience. She is an opinion leader on social media and biopharma, and has been invited to speak at industry conferences and quoted in publications.

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    Neither the CDD nor the FTC have much confidence that FDA is equipped to handle online health privacy issues.

    I would appreciate your input to my survey regarding the specific issues raised by CDD’s complaint: http://bit.ly/eVPhsL

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  • http://twitter.com/EileenOBrien Eileen O’Brien

    Thanks John for your comment. I took your survey and look forward to seeing the results. The issue of privacy online is bigger than just for health care, although privacy is especially important in this area.

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