As healthcare communications specialists, we’ve been told for years that patients actively participating in social media are the “most active,” the “most passionate,” the most “engaged,” and that they don’t reflect the “average” patient. Additionally, a number of challenges such as fear of regulators, privacy concerns, lack of familiarity and difficulty in measuring return on investment have caused the pharmaceutical industry to be relatively slow to fully engage in social media.
For these reasons, social media analysis has largely been relegated to determine trends in organic discussion (topics and volume), identify potential issues regarding a product or landscape topic and sentiment.
While these trends are now largely considered critical to strategic planning for brands, Novartis hypothesized that there is much more that can be understood via social media analysis. At the recent MM&M Transforming Healthcare conference, Valery Rissen, Global Director of HEOR Excellence, Novartis and Ian Bonzani, Principal in the Real World Evidence Solutions Group at IMS Health, presented results from an innovative pilot that aimed to answer the following question, “Can social media be used to answer outcome questions and generate scientific evidence?”
The pilot was conducted among MS patients and included review of more than 10,000 social media posts. It was designed to test the, “applicability of social media analysis to outcomes research using automated listening combined with filtering and analysis of data by specialists.” Once results were validated, the approach was used to explore the patterns of treatment switching in multiple sclerosis (MS). Through this research, the team found that, in fact, the patient population engaged in social media was reflective of the general patient population, and that trends identified in the research could be used for outcome research purposes. The full study was published in March 2016 and can be accessed here.
While this approach is relatively new, it is exciting to consider the potential to leverage this type of outcomes research using social media. Social media content is unique in that it captures large volumes of data, across diverse geographies and languages that may prove cost-effective if validated in other disease categories. In the case of MS, it is clear that social media trends represent much more than feelings, and can potentially expand research resources to understand and improve patient outcomes over the long-term in a cost-effective way.