Drugmaker ties to diabetes bloggers come under fire

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Big pharmaceutical company ties to diabetes bloggers and other social media has some advocacy groups calling for better disclosure, according to a recent post on NPR's Shots blog.

There's a vibrant diabetes community online through blogs, YouTube videos and community forums, the article notes, a big audience that pharmaceutical companies increasingly are trying to tap into by sponsoring blogs and product testimonials. Jeff Chester, of the Center for Digital Democracy, says pharma companies also are using social media to promote their devices and drugs in a deceptive way, and adds that disclosure statements are not enough.

"The [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] and [the Federal Trade Commission] need to create a whole new system for disclosing when a blogger or group gets paid by pharmaceutical companies," Chester says.

Blogger Kerri Sparling, whose site carries disclosures about her ties to drugmakers, meanwhile, says it's in pharmaceutical companies' best interests to take heed of patient experiences, whether on a blog or a YouTube video, so they can improve their products.

Drugmaker Sanofi US is heavily involved in social media, according to NPR, boasting a Twitter account and a Facebook page; the company also is exploring how best to take advantage of sites like Pinterest and Instagram. "Getting involved in social media is a critical component of serving the diabetes community," Sanofi head of diabetes Dennis Urbaniak tells NPR.

Jason Bronner, a researcher at the University of California San Diego Medical Center who is studying whether social media connections actually help diabetes patients manage their disease tells NPR that, so far, there's no proof that they do.

With Americans spending more than $100 billion a year on diabetes care, it's a vast opportunity for drugmakers. The growing disease makes it one of the biggest segments of focus among app developers, as well. Providers also are experimenting with an array of technology options to increase self-management, including texting, social media and web portals. 

The monitoring functions of these methods have been shown to improve disease management. Still, it will be up to researchers such as Bronner to show that making social connections can do the same.

To learn more:
- read the NPR Shots post

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