Insight Instead of Website

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  • 12/09/2005

From Day Two of FDA’s Part 15 Hearing on communicating risk information.

Day 2 was more energized and useful than Opening Day. This is due in no small part to the panelists acting more like engaged health care advocates rather than website designers. Having a website does not replace having insight. To wit:

Alan Goldhammer (PhRMA) made the point, echoed by many other panelists over the course of the day, that FDA and industry can do a better job communicating risk information by working together rather than (a) covering the same ground separately (which eats up both precious time and spare resources), or (b) acting in an adversarial fashion (which causes messages to be either inappropriately magnified or dangerously ignored). Alan made the very excellent point that it’s very easy to frighten people — and that leads to dangerous unintended consequences.

John Wolleben (Pfizer) commented that risk communication must begin with the thought, “What do patients need to know?” He also verbalized the quandary that it’s hard to turn drugs “on and off” at the right times in the right ways. He suggested that the FDA’s goal should be to develop standardized tools for both agency and industry and suggested a working group to design and test such instruments.

Cherif Bennattia (APhaRC) said that the FDA should learn from the the pharma industry’s success in communicating benefit to better understand how to communicate risk. A good point. Dr. Nancy Ostrove (a member of the FDA panel on the second day) commented that FDA really couldn’t move forward with any industry learnings without supporting data. My comment — boy is that the pot calling the kettle black. Cherif also made the point that as the agency moves forward they need to define their goal — something like “what is the goal of successful risk communications.”

Joe Cranston (AMA) had the most specific recommendations of the day relative to helping docs receive and communicate risk information. His list included: finalize the new physician labeling rule; work more closely with specialist organizations on relevant risk communications issues; use post-market surveillance information for data mining opportunities; and increase funding for same. He also made the point that the big issue for MDs is TIME. How can the FDA help physicians prioritize and deliver relevant risk information to their patients? His other specific suggestions included: a CME initiative on risk communications; a standardized FDA website icon by specialties; more user-friendly “Dear Doctor” letters; electronic “Dear Doctor” letters; having pharma firms incent their sales force to “detail” risk information; and most interestingly — interfacing with (yet-to-come) e-prescribing technologies.

Joe is The Man.

Susan Winckler (APhA) suggested that the debate be about quality rather than quantity — that an increase in volume has resulted in the unintended consequence of pharmacists not being as alert to PIS and medguide issues.

Tom Lawlor (NACDS and Walgreen’s) pointed out that Walgreen’s research shows that volume of risk information reduces compliance among patients, docs, and pharmacists. He also very smartly noted that the debate shouldn’t be about “risk communications” but rather “risk management communications” — and that’s a lot more than just a finesse.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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