Healthcare Blogging Interview with Shahid Shah
Shahid Shah runs a healthcare related blog, healthcareguy.com, and blog aggregator, hitsphere.com. Shahid graciously agreed to an e-mail interview about the healthcare blog marketing industry.
John: Your hitsphere.com website appears to be a blog aggregator, is that correct?
Shahid: I run two different sites:
* http://www.healthcareguy.com is a personal blog where I discuss health IT issues
* http://www.hitsphere.com is a blog aggregator on the front page but there is a "community" section at http://www.hitsphere.com/community where people in healthcare IT can start their own blogs, post to forums, post jobs, ask for opinions (via polls), and view aggregated news feeds.
John: What's the process of being nominated for the hitsphere.com website? Does everyone that's in the aggregator know that they are on the website?
Shahid: The process of being nominated on hitsphere.com is pretty simple: people just send me an email about a blog that deals with health IT specific issues. There is no formal review process other than me and a couple of other guys vetting the site to make sure it will valuable to a health IT community of readers
John: What's your estimate of the size of the healthcare blogging community?
Shahid: The general healthcare bloggers out there will number about 200 as I write this (at least those that post regularly). When you come down to health IT (technology) it comes down to under 30. The ones with regular content (daily) in health IT are probably less than 20. There is a conspicuous absence of almost all health IT commercial software providers:
IBM and Microsoft have health blogs (they joined the HITSphere) but none of the healthcare and medical vendors have their own blogs yet. I think they'll be joining soon, though.
John: In terms of the number of blogs, have you seen any examples of pharmaceutical or biotechnology company blogs yet?
Shahid: There is generally little knowledge of blogging in the healthcare community at large. While many in the technical world of healthcare know what they are they still don't see their value. I think most of the concerns about healthcare companies blogging are not well founded; they are the normal fear that all legal departments have about any extra-corporate communications not vetted by the marketing department. Companies should start the blogging process immediately (and sign up with independent blogger sites like HITSphere to gain credibility) and go ahead and moderate all comments. People who leave blog comments don't mind having their comments moderated. The main advice I have for companies is "Just Do It" or your competitors will.
It's another marketing vehicle. And more importantly, unlike most other marketing vehicles like magazines and websites a blog is two way conversation with the most important thing in your company: your customer.
John: What about the FDA? With the issue of patients writing comments on a blog with comments, reporting issues.
Shahid: I wouldn't worry too much about what the FDA has to say specifically for blogs. Blogging does not impact anything that wouldn't already be public anyway. Just as companies need to watch what they say from an SEC perspective (forward-looking statements, etc) they should do the same due diligence for the FDA. If a hospital creates a blog to help its customers understand what it does and how better to communicate with it, the FDA's not going to say anything. If a drug vendor starts a blog or discussion forum about its products and doesn't mis-communicate about efficacy of its products or fitness for a particular purpose it won't get into trouble. If a medical device vendor creates a blog about creative and legal uses of its products and doesn't promise anything that wouldn't get them into legal trouble by any other means, blogging won't be any different. Companies won't get in trouble with regulators if they stick to the truth about their products and improve the way customers interact with them. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be careful about what they say -- but that goes for anything a company says. It's not something special to blogging but blogging does make it easy for people to say whatever they want (like folks do in an email).
John: Do you know of any drug company examples of blogs?
Shahid: Lots of firms are talking about it but I don't expect to see anything until late '06 or early '07. There are a few CIO’s and CEO’s at hospitals blogging, but nothing on the drug company or medical device side yet.
John: Thanks Shahid for the interview.
Posted by johncass at December 22, 2005 1:09 PM
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Tracked on January 29, 2006 5:38 PM
John, you're quite welcome. Thanks for doing the interview, you had some great questions.
Posted by: Shahid N. Shah at December 24, 2005 10:05 AM
Thanks for conducting this insightful interview. I am currently conducting research for a report on I am developing for my healthcare marketing communications consultancy, Envision Solutions, and I found Shahid's comments very helpful.
I think there is potential for various organizations in the healthcare space to utilize Web 2.0-related collaborative technologies to communicate more efficiently with their constituents/customers. However, as Shahid noted, there is a lot of fear of this technology in the risk-adverse pharmaceutical industry.
Posted by: Fard Johnmar at January 29, 2006 4:45 PM
Fard, I'd be interested to read your thoughts on why the pharmaceutical industry is so risk adverse, and how the industry can use social networking technologies in the light of that concern?
Posted by: John Cass at January 29, 2006 6:35 PM
Three key reasons that pharmaceutical companies are so risk adverse are intense regulation, public scrutiny and the pressure to demonstrate ROI for any marketing effort. Despite this, I think there are a couple of ways that social marketing technologies like blogs may be useful to pharmaceutical companies.
The first area is in competitive intelligence and market research. Pharmaceutical companies are constantly seeking new ways to better understand how patients and physicians use/view their products. Blogs are a great way to glean this information from different patient types. Granted the information on blogs may be of varying use to marketers, but it might be one way to keep an "ear to the ground" and learn of new developments and trends early.
Given the process by which pharmaceutical companies produce content (it's a long one, most companies have legal-regulatory committes that are responsible for vetting content prior to distribution), producing a corporate blog is difficult. However, given that public opinion on the pharmaceutical industry is at a low ebb, there may be an opportunity for an executive or group within a company to develop a blog that provides its take on issues of the day. To do this, the company might have to open a conversation with the FDA and its lawyers on the parameters that the blog would have to fit into to avoid legal/regulatory consequences.
As I mentioned, I'm currently developing a report on how social marketing technologies could be used by various players in the healthcare arena (not-for-profits and for-profits). I'll send you a copy once it is complete. Others will be able to access it (after paying a small fee) from my firm's Web site (Envision Solutions, LLC). I'll post on this forum when the report is ready.
Posted by: Fard Johnmar at January 30, 2006 12:52 PM
I think your right about the most value of blogging for Pharmaceutical companies coming from consumer blogs. I think that’s one reason why I believe the majority of the largest pharmaceutical companies are using consumer generated media metrics companies to monitor the web.
I’d still like to hear more on how a pharma company can blog themselves, have you seen any interviews with FDA officials?
Posted by: John Cass at February 1, 2006 2:34 PM
Thanks for your question about what the FDA has to say about blogging. Unfortunately the FDA does not have an official policy on Internet promotion and advertising by pharmaceutical companies. This lack of regulatory guidance leaves a lot of companies in the dark about how/whether to market over the Internet. Clearly, this has not stopped companies from using the Internet to advertise their products, but pharma's use of the Internet is very cautious.
In October 1996, the FDA held public hearings on this issue and suggested that it would draft an Internet guidance document. However, in July 1999, the FDA stated that this guidance drafting effort had been suspended indefinitely. Since then, the FDA has regulated companies on a case by case basis.
For more information on this issue, please see this 2001 article from Medical Device Link.
For a transcript of the FDA's hearings on this issue, please click here.
Posted by: Fard Johnmar at February 3, 2006 2:31 PM
What you tell me does not surprise me, without further direction it does not appear to me that pharma companies will go much further down the path of blogging with open comments.
Posted by: John Cass at February 3, 2006 3:21 PM