As blogging evolved, more and more corporations have begun corporate blogs as a means of engaging the public in dialog. Pharmaceutical companies, representing a highly regulated industry, has been much more reticent and cautious in participating in this medium. Meanwhile, healthcare is one of the primary reasons that people go to the Internet for information. It is another example of how over-regulation of the communications of the pharmaceutical industry might have a negative impact on public health rather than a positive one because the entities that conduct the research and collect the data on the products we ingest are inhibited from direct communication with the public out of fear of regulatory repercussions. Yet others who might and do spread misinformation and sell snake oil are free to do so.
Recently, however, on the near-eve of the FDA's Part 15 meeting on Social Media and Medical Product Promotion – a meeting that may well determine a change in FDA regulatory policy – a major pharmaceutical company has begun a new corporate blog. The blog is AZ Health Connections by AstraZeneca and it follows in the wake of two other corporate blogs – JNJBTW by Johnson & Johnson and GSK's More Than Medicine.
In setting up their blog, AZ has done a few smart things. They have a very detailed comments policy that was obviously put together by a fleet of lawyers. They state that they reserve the right to edit or not publish some comments. They also state that this blog is not the place for discussion of specific product issues. But the smartest thing they did in my mind is to provide referrals for people if they do want to report a problem with a prescription product. That is smart because at some point in the future, companies are going to be compelled to be more aggressive and proactive in adverse event reporting – so why not start now? It is also smart because it reinforces the message that the blog is a platform for other discussion. There is also an elaborate "Legal" tab.
There is a primary editor for this blog – a Senior Director in AZ's corporate communications division, though it is unclear whether there have been different authors for the postings there so far. A visible indication of possible multiple authors is the fact that the postings each have different fonts and spacing, indicating that they were drafted in Word somewhere and cut and pasted into the blog without stylizing consistently first. AZ indicates it is their desire to engage with the blog, but the early postings leave little upon which to engage. For example, their posting on the Part 15 Social Media Meeting is purely informational about the meeting, but doesn't provide a point of view of what AstraZeneca would say to FDA, either at the meeting or in comments posted to the docket. Without that kind of substance, it is hard to engage. But it is early yet, and this blog, like all blogs, needs time to find a voice and identify its parameters.