‘Patient influencers’ now part of drug advertising

‘Patient influencers’ now part of drug advertising

There’s a new trend on social media: Patients are turning into influencers, often working closely with pharmaceutical companies to offer prescription drug advice.

That’s the upshot of a recent study that gives a new glimpse into the world where social media influencers collide with Big Pharma. While providing insight into the loosely regulated world of so-called “patient influencers,” researchers at the University of Colorado also found a bright spot: The influencers tend to have good intentions with their messages.

The findings come amid several high-profile incidents involving medications and social media influencers. In one case, a drug meant to control Type 2 diabetes was widely touted on social media for weight loss, leading to a temporary shortage.

In the Colorado study, the researchers interviewed influencers with a host of conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, chronic migraines and lupus. Most of the influencers had 1,000 to 4,000 followers and did their work in various ways, including translating pharmaceutical studies into plain language, posting drug companies’ content or touting press releases.

As a result, the line between a well-intentioned personal post and a paid advertisement can get blurred.

Still, almost all the influencers insisted they’re doing it for the right reasons — primarily to provide answers that weren’t available when they first started using a drug. Others said they wanted to help destigmatize certain diseases or disorders.

When it comes to drug information online, the best advice is the same as it is for all social media: Be skeptical, pay attention to details and consider the source.


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