The barrage of stories about the compounding pharmacy scandal and the meningitis outbreak, which has claimed 20
The survey, which is ongoing, tracked 398 active digital health consumers, who were defined as people using the Internet and social media to search online for health content during a six-month period just prior to the news of the outbreak. They were given stories and news summaries to review about the unfolding drama between October 9 and October 15.
A total of 14 percent, or 55 people, encountered content about the outbreak. Of that group, there were 202 responses to a single question about the impact of the content on their safety perceptions - were they more likely to be concerned about safety? And 63 percent of the 202 responses indicated safety concerns. Their responses, by the way, were recorded immediately.
While this is a small sample, the results offer a window into consumer reactions, if only because the stories - seen on Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter and via e-mail - underscored confusion and uncertainty about the ability of the FDA to regulate compounding pharmacies. The agency claims its enforcement powers were greatly limited by a US Supreme Court ruling a decade ago.
Enspektos, a health marketing consulting firm, is still conducting the survey, but says the preliminary findings suggest that negative online content about a health crisis can influence consumer perceptions immediately after it is read, and highlights the role of e-mail and traditional online news outlets on the spread and consumption of important health information. And there is a lesson here not only for regulators and policymakers, but also the pharmaceutical industry, because Enspektos founder and president Fard Johnmar notes that, even though the medication is different from a regular prescription drug, the overall story is similar to other safety scandals that have received widespread attention over the past decade.
"This research represents the first time we've been able to understand - in real time - how health content consumed on online news sites, e-mail and other channels is influencing perceptions of an ongoing health crisis," he writes us. "We're not relying on assumptions about the impact of content tonality on opinion. We're also not conducting surveys where we ask people to recall the impact of news content on their current mindset.
"Instead, we're capturing data on how specific news stories, with specific messages published in specific media is influencing perceptions of the meningitis outbreak. This information can be used for a range of purposes, including efforts to keep the public better informed about this serious issue" (you can read more here).
Separately, shortly after the meningitis outbreak became a widely known story, more people online were turning to the US Centers for Disease & Control Prevention than the FDA for information. In fact, the ratio was 4.5-to-1 on October 8, just four days after the agencies began issuing notices about the outbreak, according to a different analysis.
"I believe it's because the CDC is respected for its work in infectious disease, even though this was due to a contaminated drug that was not causing an infectious outbreak," says D’vorah Graeser, ceo of iMedSocial, a social media consultancy in public health and life sciences. "Also I think the FDA was not perceived as part of the solution, and maybe part of the problem."
[UPDATE: This afternoon, the CDC and FDA confirmed the presence of a fungus known as Exserohilum rostratum in unopened medication vials of preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate - 80mg/ml - from one of the three implicated lots from NECC. The laboratory confirmation further links steroid injections from these lots from NECC to the multistate outbreak of fungal meningitis and joint infections. Testing on the other two implicated lots of methylprednisolone acetate and other NECC injectables continues (here is the statement)].
shock pic thx to ogimogi on flickr