‘Patient Influencers’ Paid by Big Pharma to Mislead Followers: Report


March 17, 2023 | 6:52 p.m

A recent study found that patient influencers are paid by big pharma companies to create content that could mislead their social media followers. Getty Images/Tetraimages RF

There’s no better way to reach an audience these days than through social media — and Big Pharma knows it.

For example, video sharing platform TikTok is inundated with videos of users sharing prescription drug wellness with hashtags like #adhd (22.3 billion views), #ozempic (675.1 million views), and #wegovy (259.3 million views). trending lately.

Now, in a new study published this week in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, experts warn against this deceptive tactic used by drugmakers to pay popular social media users to endorse their products under the guise of honest reviews.

These so-called patient influencers or patient “advocates” are social media influencers who use their platform to promote pharmaceutical drugs and/or medical devices.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder analyzed 26 recent interviews with patient influencers who had been diagnosed with conditions including lupus, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease, asthma, HIV, celiac disease, chronic migraines and perimenopause.

“The patient influencers wanted to be an accurate, trustworthy source for their followers and never wanted to mislead other patients,” the researchers write about an encouraging result of their study.

The #ozempic has 675.1 million views on TikTok as the FDA reported a diabetes drug shortage due to increased demand. tick tock

The researchers estimated that the majority (69%) had previously worked with a pharmaceutical company in some way—serving on advisory boards, speaking to physicians and researchers, or communicating with key audiences—but appeared to have honorable intentions to spread awareness and information about theirs Condition.

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About 15% of the cohort said they share press releases from pharmaceutical companies with their followers when they think the information is relevant, and 12% said they cite medical studies to explain information to their audience.

Only five of the patient influencers said they never shared information about medications because they believed it was “borderline unethical.” However, some were not too ashamed to accept money from drug manufacturers.

Researchers expect the influencer marketing industry to be worth $21.1 billion by 2023.

The Federal Trade Commission requires influencers to disclose whether they have been paid with hashtags, e.g. B. by adding #ad or #sponsored to related posts, while the Food and Drug Administration has rules and regulations on what can be said in social posts. Still, many consumers can’t tell a sponsored ad from genuine peer-to-peer advice, researchers fear.

Many people distrust Big Pharma and feel more comfortable getting advice and information from a micro-influencer they can trust. Getty Images/Mint Images Rf

“Health literacy and digital literacy are both worryingly low in this country,” said author Erin Willis, associate professor of advertising, public relations and media design at CU Boulder. “The fact that patients without medical training are widely sharing drug information should concern us.”

Patient influencers are a form of direct drug marketing, legal only in the United States and New Zealand, that allow drug companies to target consumers directly rather than through doctors.

DTC drug advertising has been popular but controversial since its inception in the 1980s — but this new, under-regulated medium is of particular concern to experts, who say these patient-influencer ads often lack all the necessary information patients know must.

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The most recent and glaring example of the impact of patient influence – amplified by celebrity endorsements – is the current Ozempic craze and craze. The diabetes drug, along with a similar drug called Wegovy, is being touted on social media as a quick fix for weight loss.

Experts noted that many patient influencers may unknowingly provide misleading or insufficient information to their followers. Getty Images/Tetraimages RF

The off-label use of Ozempic and Wegovy has been so widespread over the past year that the FDA was forced to warn about dubious increased demand for the drugs amid a report of ongoing shortages that have led some diabetics to do so has to maintain their health.

It’s not just Big Pharma — directly, at least — that’s benefiting from the social media market. Medical start-up Done, which markets various treatment plans for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, was also recently accused of undermining legitimate diagnoses by overemphasizing the many benefits of its drug catalog in its ads.

“It’s a very, very fine line between advertising and hate speech,” said Dr. Yamalis Diaz, a specialist in child and adolescent psychology at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, previously told The Post. Her younger patients, she lamented, come up with “sure [brand] names in her head.”

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