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In September 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it would begin using the social media site Twitter to convey news and other information about drug safety and regulation. “Messages on Twitter provide consumers, healthcare professionals, the pharmaceutical industry, and others with timely information on new drug approvals, safety alerts, compliance actions, and consumer information,” notes an agency website. It is helpful that the agency regulating an estimated 25 percent of the U.S. economy has come to recognize that “the Internet is the place where many Americans look first to manage their health.” However, the medical products industry has been feeling its own way around the Internet and other new media, including Twitter, for several years without substantive guidance from the FDA on manufacturers’ legal obligations as to how they may present information to consumers.
That may change soon. In November 2009, the agency will hold a public hearing on the promotion of drugs and medical devices on the Internet and other new media tools, as a first step in the development of a formal policy on the matter. This is a welcome development, one that could eventually increase consumers’ ability to access useful information relevant to their health and well-being. However, if the FDA’s evolving policy fails to take adequate account of the Internet’s unique ability to present information in novel formats, it could have significant and adverse implications for consumers, Web service providers, and the medical products industry.