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FDA Testimony Healthcare Innovation DDMAC Public Hearings on Internet & Social Media #FDASM Zen Chu
Oral Testimony to FDA’s Part 15 Public Hearings on the
Promotion of FDA-Regulated Medical Products Using the
Internet & Social Media Tools*
November 13, 2009
Enabling Patient Engagement & Healthcare Innovation
Zen Chu, Founder
Accelerated Medical Ventures
Zen @ acmedx.com
Twitter #FDASM @accelmed
Thank you to Dr. Abrams and the panel for inviting me to speak. I am here to
encourage FDA restraint in order to allow new innovations to take root. My name
is Zen Chu and I’m the founder of Accelerated Medical Ventures. I bring 15
years of perspective in early stage medical & high tech innovation, as
an entrepreneur, investor and adviser to a handful of medical
I’m also caregiver & parent to one of my kids with a chronic disease, and many of
my comments are informed by the radical lifestyle changes our entire
family experienced after the diagnosis. In the interest of transparency, I’ve had
no business with large manufacturers or ad agencies and have no conflicts, and I
hope that I provide a very different perspective from most of the testimony from
Surgeon General C Everett Koop once said “Drugs don’t work in patients who
don’t take them.” I’ll offer a corollary of my own: Patients who aren’t engaged
don’t comply with therapies or report complications.
All of us here must preserve an atmosphere of clear risk/benefit communication
while enabling innovative services to better engage connected patients and
caregivers in the rapidly evolving world of new media, which crosses geographic
and legal boundaries. Evidence, efficacy and patient health must be paramount.
But I would also stress that compliance, understanding of risks and adverse
event reporting are linked to patient engagement, and social media will serve
as important “sentinel” networks.
Most of the presenters are asking for clarity in marketing rules, focused
on messages that precede diagnosis and treatment. However, it is very
important to distinguish those communications from messages after a physician
has prescribed a treatment. Some of the most important messaging to patients
must be delivered after the prescription, to educate patients on
adherence, lifestyle changes, and potential complications. This is also the place
in the disease lifecycle where adverse events occur.
Health professionals know the enormous challenge of medication adherence
& persistency. It goes far beyond patients forgetting to take or refill their
meds. In fact, forgetting only accounts for about ¼ of the
compliance problem. Studies consistently show that over 50% of non-
compliance arises because patients choose not to take the prescribed therapies,
for one of three reasons:
- They don’t believe or feel the benefits
- They fear the side effects, even if they aren’t experiencing them
- Or the therapy costs too much.
It is a failure of engagement & understanding, and social media can play an
important role in addressing these patient activation issues.
Moreover, studies show that patients retain little of what is communicated from a
physician, due to intimidating terminology and short interactions. Often
the modern physician consult mirrors a Fair Balance statement – lots of jargon
thrown at patients can’t understand or retain it. Doctors are a critical gatekeeper
for diagnosis and therapy, but most cannot spend the time necessary
to engage patients & personalize protocols in today’s environment. Doctors
cannot scale, but technology solutions can scale to fill the gap.
Technology Examples & Challenges
Technology can solve this, but business models do not yet exist. Let me
describe some of the challenges.
I hold in my hand what may be one of the best tools to engage & activate
patients –not a smartphone, this is a dumb cellphone used by 80% of
patients. This is the phone that Grandma has, and will continue to use for years
Fair balance statements do not fit. Even though I know of technologies and
companies creating solutions for long-form health messages on these phones,
my point is that the traditional Fair Balance statements are not appropriate to
the medium and would only get in the way of meaningful interaction.
Over 40 studies have shown that Interventional Health Messaging works, and
may of these studies used only short messaging on phones (SMS). Messages
alone work across socioeconomic and demographic segments to remind, nudge
& educate patients at the right time, place and context.
This is the clinical power of new media messages.
These messages succeed because they create structured protocols, distilled
into understandable brief communications, personalized to patient segments.
Patients need balanced interactions appropriate to the medium, not 1-click to full
prescribing information which they are not capable or interested in digesting.
Phones and social media have great potential, but even with the existing rigorous
clinical data, broad commercial services don’t yet exist.
Why is that?
Pretty basic: messages & protocols are not refined and the sponsors of
experiments are frozen due to FDA regulations on direct to consumer advertising
and what is considered advertising.
Disease management programs sponsored by insurers and employers have
been an investment failure and have not penetrated beyond the sickest 5% of
patients. Insurers don’t have the money to spend on furthering experiments on
“disease management light.”
But experiments are exactly what are needed to drive evidence, on an indication
by indication basis to link message, medium, response and efficacy.
These are the skills of the people focused on these hearings. Advertising and
messaging experts will be key to persuading with engaging programs and
building the evolving toolset. Advertising and sponsorship dollars
are critical enablers of this innovation. Neither patients, nor doctors, nor
hospitals, nor insurers are willing to pay for early services, and free services have
a cost to develop and prove.
More blinded controlled studies are done on the internet in one hour than are
completed by the entire medical industrial complex in a decade. FDA and clinical
research need to leverage the people and techniques of interactive media to
benefit public health.
New media holds promise as sentinels for patient safety and
reporting, not only for adverse events, but also counterfeit product, off-
label prescribing, drug interactions and the much more prevalent
known complications which also need post-market monitoring. But patients don’t
care about any of this until the event is upon them.
Effective patient messaging is the prerequisite to these other
I am an engineer, so sourcing and architecting solutions for adverse events
seems straightforward to me. Many of the solutions proposed this morning by
previous speakers should be adopted.
Bottom line: MedWatch should be retooled, simplified, and syndicated and
embedded across websites.
FDA Notices of Violations, the resulting reactions from pharma advertisers, and
Google’s AdWords data demonstrates the unintended
consequences which negatively impacted transparency and patient engagement.
That’s OK! We cannot know what we do not track, and now FDA notices and
Google have provided the experimental data. Now FDA must adjust accordingly
We all realize what a tough job it is for FDA to balance all of this. For patients to
benefit, we must all be good experimentalists to make decisions based on
So here are my five recommendations, but let me preface them with a quote by
the great philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti:
“To observe clearly, one must be free to look.”
1) FDA restraint will enable more experimentation, rigorous data and
innovation. I hope that DDMAC can lend enough clarity to allow that
engagement while avoiding regulations that place artificial barriers between
companies, healthcare institutions, physicians & patients.
Barriers to new media engagement will only invite the fringe alternative and
snake oil salesmen into the vacuum. Patient engagement and health will suffer.
2) DDMAC should provide guidelines to distinguish pre-
script marketing from post-script education messaging to enable innovation of
new services to engage patients.
3) Create a New Media & Technology Advisory Board, from experts in
disease management, health messaging, innovation and clinical research. This
will enable my last two recommendations.
4) FDA needs to build a team & strategy in order to be proactive, not just for
adverse events. It’s clear even to me, observing this from a safe distance, that
DDMAC needs to hire more people versed in interactive media and technology.