Earlier this week, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave a speech about the use of mobile information technology in healthcare. She lauded the advancements made in this field, from health IT in doctors' offices to iPad apps that help patients quit smoking.
Clearly, HHS recognizes the value of these tools, including social media, to improve healthcare. After all, HHS and FDA both use these tools themselves; a quick count finds more than 10 Twitter handles belonging directly and officially to FDA divisions and programs (not just individuals) - like @US_FDA
, and @FDAWomen
Secretary Sebelius directly addressed the importance of embracing new technologies to improve health and health information. According to the published comments
, she said: "Over the last few decades, we've seen information technology improve the consumer experience in almost every area of our lives.... But health care has stubbornly held onto its cabinets and hanging files."
Unfortunately, despite the progressive comments that Secretary Sebelius made, an agency within her own department is limiting dissemination of health information online. Specifically, the FDA is not making good on its commitment to provide guidance on how biopharmaceutical companies can use social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, to communicate about medicines and other medical treatments to healthcare professionals and patients.
This lack of FDA guidance is not due to lack of awareness: the agency has long promised a guidance on this issue, and PhRMA itself has proposed solutions to FDA about how to govern these communications in a responsible, educational, patient-focused way.
Secretary Sebelius said she wants patients to have this information: "Part of our health care problem is a lack of information. Patients have little access to their own health information.... Even basic information about where to find a good specialist or the side effects of a medication can be hard to obtain."
She closed by asking the mobile health entrepreneurs in the room to "be supporters of all the innovations underway in our health care system, not just those that directly involve mobile tools. If you want mobile health technologies to succeed, the best thing you can do is help move us towards the kind of patient-centered health care system that allows those technologies to make the biggest impact."
I can't help but hope that these comments mean that FDA will finally help us move toward just that sort of patient-centered health care system, one in which patients are able to learn about their diseases and the medicines that may help them - and one in which companies are able to help those patients learn using the same media channels that HHS and FDA have embraced.