Pfizer Set To Join Online Physician Social Network
Pfizer on Monday announced an agreement under which physicians employed by the drug maker will be able to communicate with the 31,000 doctors that use Sermo, a medical social networking site, the Bloomberg/Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports (Bloomberg/Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 10/15).
Sermo, founded in September 2006, provides a forum for licensed physicians to anonymously discuss diagnostic and treatment techniques, and it allows users to rank postings based on credibility. According to Sermo, membership increases by about 1,000 to 2,000 per week.
The site originally was designed to be a "sanctuary from the influence" of drug companies, the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. However, recent polls and focus groups involving its members show a desire for industry participation, Sermo officials say.
CEO Daniel Palestrant said, "Doctors in our focus groups would say, 'In many cases, the most timely and interesting information on drugs comes from the industry. But I want that information on my terms'" (Jewell, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/14).
Pfizer doctors, whose affiliation will be clearly labeled, will be able to ask questions and respond to posts on the Web site, and users will be able to identify biased statements and offer rebuttals. The access will provide the drug maker with "insights into prescribing patterns and a way to show doctors data on its drugs," according to the Wall Street Journal. Financial terms of the agreement have not been disclosed (Johnson, Wall Street Journal, 10/15). Rules about interactions on the site will be discussed in online "town hall" meetings involving Pfizer and physician members of Sermo. Palestrant said Sermo is considering similar deals with other drug makers (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/14).
According to Michael Berelowitz, a senior vice president of Pfizer who oversees physicians, the arrangement "creates a social discourse around the results, which is very different than a rather cold transmission through other media, where you don't have that two-way communication." He added, "There will be great care taken to ensure the information we provide is transparent and clear, and done with full disclosure" (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/14).
Palestrant said, "It takes a lot of courage for Pfizer to do this, because the response isn't going to be universally positive," adding, "Pharma is always in crisis, always under fire for something, and there have been trust issues with physicians." The Journal notes that the partnership could "attract fresh attention to how drug companies interact with physicians" (Wall Street Journal, 10/15).