You Just Posted Your Rash... Now BigPharma Wants Your Help

Leveraging Social Media for Clinical Health Research

During SXSW 2017 Health technology conference yesterday, I attended a talk entitled, “The Future of Research: Capability or Culture.”

The panel of four experts brought up the subject of why it takes so long (sometimes over a decade) for an investigation drug to make it through the FDA approval process.

One variable is how long it takes to identify potential patients who have the medical condition and determine if they are willing to participate. If recruitment lags, trials can take years to complete.

Why can’t this be disrupted?

Gone are the days of highway billboards, infomercials, and the back pages of college newspapers hoping to attract volunteers to test THE latest drug to treat erectile dysfunction.

In this day and age, where the majority of young adults use social media to communicate with the rest of the world, it only seems logical to leverage this platform to promote clinical research.

Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter use powerful analytics to create digital profiles of all of its users based on your “likes” and “follows.” They already know what kind of beer you drink or whether or not you prefer to stay in a 5-star hotel versus shoestrapping it.

Based on your posts, likes, or groups you joined, it would be easy to determine if you have psoariasis, a rare form of night blindness, or it burns when you pee.

Yes, they know you posted that weird rash on Instagram.

Further, deep learning algorithms can determine if you have the personality traits of someone likely to join a clinical trial.

What I learned from one of the panel members is that this is already starting to happen.

If you’ve signed the broad based “Terms and Agreements” page when you initially signed up for a social media site, it’s more than likely that you’ve agreed to allow them to share (read: SELL) this content with a BigPharma company or the Clinical Research Organization that assists them with conducting the trial.

And if it actually helps with recruitment, it will likely become standard practice.

Our society has become more and more comfortable with publicly displaying their “digital self” and it’s clear that targeted advertising is a viable and efficient business model.

It’s only natural that human clinical health research follow suit.

But is it ethical? Stay tuned…


#clinicalresearch #bigpharma #bigdata #socialmedia #facebook #twitter #instagram #FDA #medicine #digihealth #digitalhealth #SXSW #SXSW2017

Robert Wong, MD
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