How Social Media Can Help Connect Diabetic Americans With Drug Manufacturers

As NPR points out, social media and online communities have the potential to provide a broad-based support network to the increasing number of Americans suffering from diabetes.

The diabetes online community (DOC) consists of millions of Americans nationwide who blog and share testimonials on every aspect of living with the disease, from insulin testing to dating advice, through social media services. And pharmaceutical companies that create drugs for diabetic Americans have taken note, employing their own online outreach efforts in order to spread information about their products, receive input from patients, and provide a hub for the increasing number of Americans with diabetes:

A few years ago, drug companies started paying attention to these video testimonials and to bloggers talking about their products. The companies even created their own social media sites.

“Our primary platform is our blog Discuss Diabetes,” explains Dennis Urbaniak, the head of diabetes at drug giant Sanofi US. They also have a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a diabetes dictionary, and they’re looking into Pinterest and Instagram. “Getting involved in social media is a critical component of serving the diabetes community,” says Urbaniak.

And it’s not just serving the community; it’s serving companies’ bottom lines. Treating diabetes is extremely profitable. Every year Americans spend more than $100 billion on diabetes care. So, in addition to tweeting about new products, pharmaceuticals are sponsoring bloggers like Sparling.

“If we’re talking about what we want from our devices, it is in their best interest to be hearing that and making the changes we’re requesting so they can improve their sales,” Sparling says.

Emerging internet technology is already encouraging a growing number of people to use online resources to track their medical information or even to crowdsource their medical bills. And internet tools do present a promising opportunity for a pharmaceutical model that puts drug manufacturers in direct contact with the people they are servicing, creating better market information and bearing potential benefits for both patients and drug makers. Especially because diabetes cases have soared by 50 percent in the last 15 years, and are likely to continue affecting more and more Americans across the country, this could be an important way forward.

But officials from the Food and Drug Administration are careful to note that while pharmaceuticals’ online outreach might be the wave of the future, there must be greater transparency in identifying which bloggers and online resources are funded or sponsored by the drug industry so as not to dupe customers in what is largely a profit-motivated enterprise. Drugs for pre-diabetic or borderline patients can run Americans with private insurance up to $100 per prescription.