Private social networks for patients and doctors is a huge opportunity for improving the collaboration between doctors, patients and pharmaceutical companies. 

Pharmas don't do social media but they are world champs in sales and marketing; if you look at the balance sheet of one of the top 10 innovative pharmas, you will see that over 50% of expenses are for sales and marketing; more than R&D.  Much of this budget goes to above-the-line  communications in mass media and below-the-line promotions by their direct medical sales representatives touching physicians.

Despite their expertise in marketing, "Pharma still fears social networking". Pharmaceutical and medical device companies lag far behind other industries in the adoption of "Web 2.0" technologies like social media, even though it's relatively easy to try out social media and see if you get traction. The energy barrier is so low and the leverage on Youtube is so high, it's an irresistible force moving a very heavy object:

Sanofi Aventis and AstraZeneca Launch YouTube Sites -Social media has been a buzzword in the pharmaceutical industry for the past few years (see ePharma Summit), but few companies have crossed the line into the world of social networking or conducting two-way conversations with patients online.

The Sanofi channelis part of its integrated GoInsulin campaign, an unbranded health education program designed to give people more information about diabetes and serve as a launching pad to the Sanofi homepage. It features an array of patient videos and a link to an off-site, online game that separates the myths about insulin from reality. The channel has no branded drug material, but lists the company’s name below the top banner.

Although social media like Twitter is dominantly about personal opinions and experiences, social media such as blogs and file sharing have important collaborative applications.

An important collaborative application for private social networking for healthcare helps integrate all the information and care of a patient with multiple issues and care-givers (a typical MSA patient will have a GP, neurologist, speech therapist, physiotherapist, nutritionist and primary care giver at home who is usually the husband or wife of the patient with problems of their own.

Speaking before a conference of the Case Management Society of America in October 2007, Tim Rothwell from Sanofi Aventis discussed their commitment to help resolve problems of collaborative care

The issues and challenges of poor transitions of care, said Rothwell, are critically important to him personally and to Sanofi-Aventis as a company. 'The problem, of course, is a healthcare system that, for many - particularly those who get bounced around within it - is fragmented and sometimes even frightening,' Rothwell observed. 'For those who have family members or friends who have experienced repeated encounters with the healthcare system, the only consistent thing they believe it delivers is confusion and, sometimes, flawed outcomes.'

On the other hand, GSK has a large, impressive, consumer-oriented blog called More Than Medicine. The lead author is a corporate communications person, identified only as Michael M. GSK avoids discussing products, citing “unique regulatory parameters governing our communications” as a drug maker.

The disclaimer on the header says “This is an official GSK blog and is intended for US residents only”;

only it's an image and the search engines don't seem to care if you are surfing from Israel or Egypt or China and reading information intended for US residents only.

For more resources on pharma and social networking:

Health business blog

UK Government department on innovation and universities - pharma tagged articles

3 reasons why 45 pharmas don't embrace social networking

Ten digital marketing ideas pharmas will never try

Let's make it a threesome on pharma marketing

How to create a social application for life sciences without getting fired

Exelon patch collaborative web site for care givers

Healthcare VOX - four digital activities pharma must do