Sermo, a web-based social networking site for physicians, should not be confused with Facebook. Here's the first really big clue about Sermo that is displayed to physician members on the home page when they sign on to the site:
Invite your colleagues to join Sermo. You get $200, they get a $15 Amazon gift card.
What! The site pays $200 for new recruits? Welcome to the world of Big Pharma and the monetary value that these companies place on physician eyeballs. Below is an excerpt from a recent note in the Health Care Blog that goes into more detail about a recently announced deal between Sermo and Pfizer (boldface emphasis mine):
This is the latest version of Big Pharma’s experiment to figure out how to replace the incredibly inefficient way it researches, sells to and communicates with doctors. The very baby steps of starting to cut those detail forces are just starting to be taken, but while those empires slowly get dismantled over the coming decade(s), something needs to be put into its place. eDetailing via video has been a bust so far, and putting those hot cheerleaders into the doctor’s office is getting more and more expensive. So the deal is that Pfizer (and of course soon other pharmas) will be able to put information into the social networking site. This has great opportunity and great peril for big Pharma....
Pfizer, working together with Sermo’s physician community and other Sermo partners, plans to pursue a number of key objectives through this collaboration, including [the following]:
- Discover, with physicians, how best to transform the way medical information is exchanged in the fast-moving social media environment
- Create an open and transparent discussion with physicians through the innovative channel offered by online exchange
- Engage with the FDA to define guidelines for the use of social media in communications with healthcare professionals
- Work with physicians to develop a productive exchange between pharmaceutical professionals and the Sermo community
Excuse me for my incredulity, but it seems to me the very last thing in the world that Big Pharma wants is an "open and transparent discussion with physicians." What they truly want, and what nearly all vendors want, is to establish some degree of client control. To a certain extent, they create such an environment when "detailing" a physician in his or her office. Personal contact is established and the conversation can be highly controlled. Drug samples plus promotional brochures can be physically handed to the physician. No one else participates in the interaction. No kibitzers to interrupt the flow of the message.
On the web, most conversations are neither private or controlled. The physicians being "detailed" can immediately query the web for a broad swath of information about a particular drug including scientific articles about efficacy and adverse events -- near perfect transparency. Physician peers (i.e, kibitzers) can chime into the conversation at any time with conflicting opinions about a drug. I am glad that Big Pharma has discovered Sermo as a collaborator for communicating with physicians, but this may not be a communication vehicle that is entirely to the company's liking. You may also want to read Dr. Scott Shreeve's take on Sermo.