P2P Healthcare & the Portals of Power

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  • 04/26/2012

Transparency (via social media) is leading to erosion in trust of once sacrosanct gurus such as physicians, corporations, their avatars and other “experts” (not the least of which is the mainstream media).

It’s been a painful and swift denuding of influence. Rather than being slowly disrobed, yesterday’s unquestioned experts have been roughly stripped of their gravitas and authority. Some have behaved badly, the majority has ignored it. Too few have gotten the message – adapt or die. You can’t airbrush social media.

Perhaps (and hopefully) this isn’t so much a downward spiral as it is (in the words of Schumpeter) “creative destruction.”

As Schumpeter writes in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, “The fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumers, goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates.”

He would have loved social media.

While various “emperors” are being exposed as having no clothes, the void is being filled with robust and real-time peer-to-peer communications. Alas, there are also many ascendant false prophets. The Internet is full of them. Some are well-meaning (but still dangerous) idiots (such as the anti-vaccine crowd), others pure charlatans ("Cure your cancer in Mexico!").

As Don Draper once said, “I'm enjoying the story so far, but I have a feeling it’s not going to end well.”

Social media is a wonderful “green field of opportunity.”  But to maximize the opportunity, we must accommodate the reality of a messier world.  Social media, almost by definition, is messy – and the regulatory framework (or lack thereof) is equally so. And it’s not likely to get much better. Get used to it.

All this doesn’t mean that social media is a bad thing. Nobody said it was going to be easy. If we want to change the healthcare paradigm (and for some that’s a big “if”), then changing the way people learn, discuss and address healthcare issues is a crucial element. And, unlike other aspects of healthcare change – it is happening with great rapidity.

Impact and influence happen when what you have to share is to the benefit of the seeker — not to you.  And that requires a level of focus, acumen and honesty that is always hard and often lacking – especially when it comes to healthcare marketing. As the saying goes in our nation’s capital, “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

In the words of Winston Churchill, “Ease is relative to the experience of the doer.”

We’re still looking to healthcare professionals for technical solutions (physicians are no longer the first and last word, but the first among equals). When it comes to practical advice, it’s an increasingly peer-to-peer proposition. Today (for better or worse) we are all “learned intermediaries.” (But some as more learned than others – a fact we need to recognize and advocate.)

Welcome to the new world of P2P Healthcare where social media holds the keys to the portals of power.  And as Dr. James Fowler of the University of California at San Diego, opined, “Pharma must realize their own network power.”

Social media is communications at the speed of life. As Marshall McLuhan wrote, “At electric speed, all forms are pushed to the limits of their potential." 

(Still think you can wait for more precise and directive FDA regulations?)


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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