As most of you know, policy changes are a frequent and sometimes frustrating part of Research Administration. As Social Media advocates, we dedicate many of our tweets, posts, and blogs to these new policies so that all of you, our followers, can stay up to date. One of the most recent, and more grumbled about, changes was NIH’s implementation of new Conflict of Interest polices, released last August. Since then, Johns Hopkins has released its own revised procedures, but concerns still remain with respect to situations where PI’s interact with external parties.
Of particular attention is how Social Media, and its use by a PI, plays a role in the adherence to these new policies. Last November, Dr. Matthew DeCamp, Clinical Fellow at the Berman Institute of Bioethics and DOM Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins, published an article detailing the uncertainty that has arisen through the use of Social Media sites to dispense information. Dr. DeCamp was a guest speaker at a recent Johns Hopkins symposium on COI, and further discussed the related concerns and questions.
For example, 31% of medical blogs analyzed boasted product endorsements without any conflict disclosures. Given how easy it is to disseminate substantive information through social media platforms, is there a responsibility for a site host to include a disclosure of interest (e.g. ‘I am receiving money for research from GSK’) along with any endorsements it may provide? And, would these statements be communicated any differently, or more/less frequently, in an office setting? Lastly, what about recruitments for clinical trials offered by a physician who also happens to have a separate relationship with the drug provider? These are just some of the many questions that need to be addressed to allow both faculty and institutions alike to confidently move forward.
So far, both the American Medical Association and Federation of State Medical Boards have released their own policies. However, with Social Media comparatively new and constantly evolving, it may be a while before anything all-encompassing is established.