New research shows how drug manufacturers are using online social media to target customers, including a new class of drugs called ‘social pharmacists’.
The findings, which are published in the journal PLOS ONE, highlight how companies are able to identify patients based on the amount of time they spend online.
“These findings suggest that companies could potentially be able to target a particular population of users based on their online activities, rather than relying solely on the social networking profiles of consumers,” said Dr. John McGlothlin, a pharmacologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago who was not involved in the study.
“This research could help companies better understand their target users, as well as develop new therapies and reduce the need for costly and ineffective treatments.”
In an example, the study found that the average amount of online time spent online by individuals between the ages of 18 and 44 was over five hours per day.
The average number of hours spent online per day among people who had received their first dose of the drug, mirtazapine, was five hours.
While the study was conducted among individuals who received the drug in a single-dose course, the researchers found that users who were exposed to the drug for just three months, and were then followed up over three years, had a much lower level of internet time.
The authors believe the study is a sign of how the internet is changing the way drug companies target their patients, as the drugs are becoming more and more popular in the pharmaceutical industry.
“The use of social pharmacists is becoming more common in the industry as people are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of their medicines, especially for those who are suffering from chronic pain,” said McGlathlin.
“These new findings show that companies can potentially target specific populations of users, based on how much time they’re spending online.
In this way, we can better target the potential users of our medicines, and reduce our costs.”
The study was led by researchers from the University at Buffalo, the University Medical Center of Ghent and the University Hospitals Ghent, as part of the International Study of Pharmaceutical Marketing (ISOM), a collaboration between the European Commission, the United Nations Development Programme and the European Union.
Dr. Mihaela Lefkowitz, an associate professor at the Ghent University of Technology, who is the lead author of the study, said that pharmacists are becoming a more and less important part of pharmaceutical industry, with many companies looking to better control patient care.
“We have a problem with pharmacists, as we’re the ones who give you the pills, who give the needles and who are responsible for the administration of these medicines,” she said.
“The pharmacist is now being replaced by a software platform that helps companies to make these decisions.”
Lefkowitz said that while the study looked at the effects of social online pharmacists on the pharmacists themselves, it also highlighted how drug makers are using social platforms to target consumers.
“Companies that have the financial resources to target social online pharmacy users are able, thanks to the social platforms they’re using, to target their customers in a much more efficient and effective way,” she explained.
“This is very exciting, because it means that the pharmaceutical companies can now be more competitive, as they’re able to find a better way of targeting patients.”
And this way of marketing to pharmacists will help them to attract a wider audience.