The MedTech Industry and Social Media: Getting Started

When it comes to medical technology, the internet is a valuable resource for medical professionals to do research, share education materials and glean information about new products, devices and equipment. The MedTech Industry, however, seems to lagging behind in joining the wildly popular world of social media for marketing products, expanding brand awareness and involving medical professionals and the end-user consumers, with only 11 percent of medtech companies using social, mobile analytic or cloud technologies to aggressively engage with consumers. Financial resources are leaner today as well, due to the 2.3% Medical Device Excise Tax imposed by the Federal Government, so where to start?

A smaller budget does not mean that a social media campaign cannot be effectively executed. One must first understand the complex infrastructure of the MedTech Industry, as shown in this chart:

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Many MedTech manufacturers utilize IDNs (integrated delivery networks), GPOs (group purchasing organizations), independent distributors or sales reps to get their products and product information to the medical professionals. Marketing materials are often sent from the manufacturing vendor to the distribution channels recipients for promotional efforts, however, little instruction is given on how to market the products using social media.

Before starting a social media marketing campaign, a MedTech marketer must first understand the distribution channels that their particular company utilizes and form strategic partnerships with all essential touch-points to keep the message coherent, ethical and informative.

To complicate matters further, in December 2011, FDA (Food and Drug Administration) drafted recommended guidelines for digital media named the Guidance for Industry: Responding to Unsolicited Requests for Off-Label Information About Prescription Drugs and Medical Devices. Simply put, off-label means that a device (or drug) that is not FDA approved should not be promoted nor should information about that product be accessible through digital media. Although these guidelines are recommended avenues of behavior, there is no definitive rules to follow.**

This may leave many in the MedTech Industry at a loss on how to begin the journey into social media jungle, but these condensed social media tips may help those get on their way, before it is too late:

1.  Define Audience and Sign Up:

The MedTech marketer must know who the audience is they want to reach, promote to and eventually sell to. There are many different platforms that medical professionals use to get information on medical technology, like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube that can show videos of medical products in action, proving to be very effective marketing tools. Setting up several accounts and creating a clear message that can be funneled down through the distribution channels is a sound strategy.

2.  Monitor and Engage with Adequate Resources:

Social media platforms are time-consuming to operate and monitor. Posting content, responding to comments or inquiries, engaging with your audience and marketing complex medical technologies is a full-time job. Those involved in the social media marketing process should be allocated enough resources to effectively promote the medical technology and to monitor comments and consumer behavior, keeping communication messages clear and concise.

3.  Keep Ethics in Mind:

Although the FDA released recommended guidelines and not hard-set rules about off-label information, MedTech marketers should adhere to them to avoid any warning letters or backlash from the FDA. Here are some key highlights from the report, explained by MediMedia, USA:

A.  The guidance clarifies the difference between unsolicited and solicited requests in the social media realm. The FDA may consider solicited requests evidence of a firm’s intent that a drug be used for off-label purposes.

B.  The guidance also distinguishes between non-public and public unsolicited requests and recommends appropriate responses. The FDA is also concerned about publicly posted drug/product information, such as product risks, that might reside on the Internet indefinitely even after the information becomes outdated.

C.  The guidance encourages drug/medical technology companies to respond to unsolicited requests that are made in a public forum because other forum participants might not provide or have access to the most accurate, up-to-date information.

D.  Companies should respond to unsolicited requests only if they pertain to that company’s own named product.

E.  Responses to unsolicited requests should not be promotional in nature or tone, and they should not provide links to promotional content.

Posting true and ethical statements that include both possible side-effects/risks of the medical technology as well as the benefits and effectiveness of the products will send a message that the Medtech industry is serious about providing consumers with the best products available while keeping them well-informed.

Policies within MedTech companies exploring social media platforms should detail marketing strategies for their products and stick to them to ensure adherence to FDA ethical guidelines, which leads to consumer acceptance.

By following these three steps to starting a social media marketing campaign, the MedTech Industry may overcome their reluctance to participate fully in the social media realm and become as technologically advanced as the products they promote.

**UPDATE on FDA as reported by Medical Marketing & Media: http://www.mmm-online.com/fda-eases-rules-on-ads-in-social-media/article/329225/

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