IMS Health: Pharma Should Make Better Use of Social Media To Engage Patients and Improve the Use of Medicines

IMS Institute Report Finds Nearly Half of Top 50 Manufacturers Have Active Social Media Engagement – Industry Standouts are Leading the Way

PARSIPPANY, N.J.--()--With the role of social media rapidly expanding, nearly half of pharmaceutical manufacturers are now actively using this channel to engage with patients on healthcare-related topics, according to a new report released today by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. While regulatory uncertainty remains a factor limiting social media use, some drug companies are establishing an active digital presence to contribute to the overall healthcare discussion. Advancing social media to a more central position in healthcare – particularly in the appropriate use of medicines – requires improved quality of information, a more proactive embrace of technology tools by pharmaceutical manufacturers, and greater recognition by healthcare professionals of the positive role social media interactions can play in wellness, prevention and treatment.

The study – Engaging Patients through Social Media – found that among the top 50 pharmaceutical companies worldwide, nearly half actively participate in social media on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. However, only ten companies utilize all three of these major social networking services for healthcare topics. Many companies are using social media primarily as a unilateral broadcasting channel to physicians and patients, with limited interaction or fostering of discussion. Smaller manufacturers with narrower therapeutic focuses and consumer health companies typically have the highest levels of social media patient engagement.

To examine the current state of consumer behaviors on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, researchers developed the IMS Health Social Media Engagement Index. The proprietary Index assesses reach, based on the total number of individuals exposed to a message via likes, shares or re-tweets; relevance, the degree that content is found useful and shared across social networks; and relationship, the level of direct interaction around specific content.

“Increasingly, patients are turning to social media as an essential forum for obtaining and sharing information related to their health,” said Murray Aitken, executive director of the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. “This trend only heightens the need for relevant, accurate content that can be accessed and used throughout the patient journey. Healthcare professionals, regulators and pharmaceutical manufacturers all need to overcome their reticence and acknowledge the vital role that they can and should play as participants in the healthcare conversation.”

The report’s key findings include the following:

  • Twenty-three of the top 50 global pharmaceutical manufacturers have some level of healthcare-related social media engagement. Of the companies reviewed by the IMS Institute, the top-ranked organization based on the IMS Health Social Media Engagement Index is Johnson & Johnson, with an overall score of 70. Other companies included in the top ten Index ranking have scores ranging from 25 to nine. Mid-sized organizations, including Novo Nordisk, Boehringer Ingelheim and UCB, are utilizing social media as effectively, or more effectively, than the largest pharmaceutical manufacturers. The overall level of engagement between pharmaceutical companies and patients has steadily increased during the past year as more organizations become active in this area.
  • Regulatory agencies are active in social media even as manufacturers await final guidance on requirements. Regulators increasingly are utilizing social media channels to connect to a wider healthcare audience. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), which has a particularly strong Facebook presence, ranks highly on social media engagement and has a higher relationship score on the IMS Health Index than any pharmaceutical company. The European Medicines Agency operates its Twitter feed with one of the highest reach index scores, second only to the FDA. The direct involvement of regulators into healthcare discussions online indicates their understanding of the value of a strong social media presence. The FDA has committed by the middle of 2014 to deliver its final regulatory guidance on social media usage, which is expected to provide the industry with more confidence in its social media participation.
  • Wikipedia is the single leading source of medical information for patients and healthcare professionals. The top 100 English Wikipedia pages for healthcare topics were accessed, on average, 1.9 million times during the past year. Rarer diseases, which often have fewer available information sources and are less understood by patients and clinicians, show a higher frequency of visits than many more common diseases. In an assessment of 50 major disease-specific Wikipedia articles, the Institute found a strong correlation between page views and medicine use, with online information-gathering occurring throughout the patient journey. Content incorporated or updated on healthcare-related Wikipedia pages is subject to constant change, often overseen by informal or formal working groups. An assessment of Wikipedia disease articles indicates that at least half of the changes made are related to patient-relevant information.
  • Social media engagement lags significantly within the population segment that uses healthcare services the most. Age is one of a few differentiating factors in the use of social networking sites, where utilization is less dependent on gender, education, income or other forms of social advantage. Younger people tend to conduct online investigations before the start of therapy, as measured by prescriptions or sales of medications. By contrast, patients age 50 or older tend to begin their treatments prior to seeking information online. The difference of utilization by age groups will diminish as “digital natives” increase their involvement and influence professionally and privately within their networks.

The full version of the report, including a detailed description of the methodology, is available at It can also be downloaded as an app via iTunes at The study was produced independently as a public service, without industry or government funding.

About the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics

The IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics provides key policy setters and decision makers in the global health sector with unique and transformational insights into healthcare dynamics derived from granular analysis of information. It is a research-driven entity with a worldwide reach that collaborates with external healthcare experts from across academia and the public and private sectors to objectively apply IMS Health’s proprietary global information and analytical assets. More information about the IMS Institute can be found at:

About IMS Health

IMS Health is a leading global information and technology services company providing clients in the healthcare industry with comprehensive solutions to measure and improve their performance. By applying sophisticated analytics and proprietary application suites hosted on the IMS One intelligent cloud, the company connects more than 10 petabytes of complex healthcare data on diseases, treatments, costs and outcomes to help its clients run their operations more efficiently. Drawing on information from 100,000 suppliers, and on insights from more than 45 billion healthcare transactions processed annually, IMS Health’s 9,300 professionals drive results for over 5,000 healthcare clients globally. Customers include pharmaceutical, consumer health and medical device manufacturers and distributors, providers, payers, government agencies, policymakers, researchers and the financial community.

As a global leader in protecting individual patient privacy, IMS Health uses anonymous healthcare data to deliver critical, real-world disease and treatment insights. These insights help biotech and pharmaceutical companies, medical researchers, government agencies, payers and other healthcare stakeholders to identify unmet treatment needs and understand the effectiveness and value of pharmaceutical products in improving overall health outcomes.


IMS Health
Tor Constantino, +1 484-567-6732


IMS Health
Tor Constantino, +1 484-567-6732