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Social Media and Clinical Trials

When I hear the words “social media,” I immediately think, ah, yes, the grown-up words for Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube (sorry, MySpace, wherever you have gone).  Then, out of fear I’m being culturally left behind, I immediately run to all three to make sure I haven’t missed my favorite writer’s take on whatever event has just occurred, a friend posting a snippet of the minutiae of everyday life, or the latest video involving a cat, a toaster, and some circus music.  And I’m not alone in the way I view and use these forms of social media, as most people I know think of them as entertainment and a way to stay socially relevant.

While social media certainly is those things, we often forget the one idea behind social media that makes it so powerful:  It offers anyone, no matter who you are or where you are, a chance to be connected to others and feel like you matter.  As we are creatures who need social interaction and are always looking to be accepted, no matter how independent one is, it shouldn’t come as surprise that social media has exploded in popularity and use like it has.  But can this desire for personal connection be effectively used in an area like clinical trials?

The Pew Research Center recently conducted a study in which it was revealed that 61% of American adults seek medical information online.  That’s a lot of people looking for information with which they’re not very familiar.  It’s also a lot of information that needs sorting.  And it’s also the opening for social media.

These people, like you and me, can be confused, worried, and frustrated as they search online.  But, while they all have different concerns, all of them want someone to point them in the right direction.  Someone to tell them, “Hey, check out this link” or “This might be helpful to you.”  Whether they realize it or not, they want human interaction.

Social media provides such interaction.  It allows individuals to interact on a personal level, and, in the case of relaying medical information, as long as the information provided is useful and accurate, it helps build trust.  By using social media, through a Facebook page or Twitter account for example, clinical trials can connect on a personal level with prospective patients, while providing them with valuable information.  And it’s probably safe to assume that the more trust a prospective patient has in a clinical trial, the more likely he or she is likely to enroll.

Of course, relying totally on social media for patient recruitment is and may never be prudent (someone write that down and remind me of that sentence when social media becomes our overlords in 5-10 years).  In fact, the FDA has yet to release guidelines on how clinical trials may use social media to recruit patients.  For now though, when used and taken in moderation, like all things, social media has a proper place in patient recruitment.  But I’d save the video of the cat making toast set to circus music for family and friends.

Posted by qd_admin on July 19th, 2011 :: Filed under Uncategorized