MHRA report finds healthcare blogs as influential as old media

I’m playing catch-up here with some old(ish) news from earlier in September.

Bob Fiddaman (author of Seroxat Sufferers) recently had a meeting with the MHRA, which you can read about here – there’s a full transcript of the meeting.

Bob’s meeting coincided with the release by the MHRA of a report it had commissioned about itself, Seroxat and blogs… you can download the entire 248 page document here. It’s a 12.1mb file, as it includes the report and many letters from patients and members of Parliament who wrote to complain about Seroxat.

Now read on for an American viewpoint on all this – from Furious Seasons:

Earlier this year, the MHRA–Britain’s FDA–got a report from a British web consulting firm analyzing the influence and popularity of various online information sources for people interested in learning more about Seroxat (Paxil’s UK name) and the MHRA. It’s not clear why the MHRA commissioned the study, but apparently the agency realized it was being pounded by numerous British bloggers over its role in letting a problematic anti-depressant stay on the market with few warnings for consumers about withdrawal problems and other side effects, so the agency apparently wanted to learn how much impact all these newfangled blogs were having.

What the MHRA learned from this report (6.4 MB pdf) is that blogs and the people who write them are as influential as many traditional media websites and traditional corporate websites and are more influential than are many well-financed healthcare websites such as WebMD. The report only looked at how influential blogs were as regards the MHRA and Seroxat (as opposed to the FDA and Paxil) to give the whole thing a British slant.

Included among influential and popular blogs in no particular order were Pharmalot (US), Seroxat Sufferers, Seroxat Secrets (UK), the Carlat Psychiatry Blog (US), Furious Seasons (my All-American blog), Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry (US) and Health Care Renewal (US). For popularity and influence, we ranked right up there with wire services, the London (UK), Times and the Wall Street Journal and only slightly trailed the BBC and the New York Times. This is all quite astonishing when you think about it–underfinanced blogs having as much influence as the WSJ! Unthinkable! US blogs that barely mention the MHRA (and usually write about Paxil not Seroxat) being more influential than WebMD–the world has come undone for sure!

You can skim the report for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Obviously, there are going to be biases in how the report’s analyses were done and what search terms were used and so on (you’d get different results if the consultants had gone after the FDA and Paxil), but what the MHRA has learned reminds me of what political parties and the mainstream media learned about US political blogs in 2004 and that is that they cannot ignore them. The reading public has voted with its eyeballs and has decided that blogs matter, and matter in some cases much more than Big Pharma’s own websites and more than pharma-funded health care sites like WebMD. And that my friends smells like victory.

I simply cannot wait until the FDA figures this phenomenon out for itself. Advertisers too.

Posted in MHRA. 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “MHRA report finds healthcare blogs as influential as old media”

  1. anonymous Says:

    A victory for access to truthful information I think…

    “The key table is perhaps the “Betweenness” table showing as it does how the Healthy
    Skepticism blog is present as a link in an astonishing 29.85% of all the “random walks”1 in this
    network and Aubrey Blumsohn’s Scientist Misconduct blog has 28.54% and the Fiddaman blog
    is not far behind on 18.08%. The MHRA is present on 12.01% of walks and the BMJ and GSK
    trail far behind, with scores around 6%. In an analysis of a mainstream topic one would
    expect the Betweenness rankings to be dominated by conventional media (e.g. BBC) or
    generalist information sites. It is highly unusual that sites with strong agendas occupy this
    The Betweenness scores tell us that the running in this story has been dominated by bloggers.
    They are linking the vast majority of influencers and providing information to them. The reach
    of the protagonists – such as GSK or MHRA – is far weaker, suggesting that they lack an
    audience of equivalent size within the top influencer group.
    The most influential of the mainstream media – BBC, BMJ, New York Times, and Guardian –
    rely not on blogs at all but on the official sources of information, government departments,
    regulators, pharmaceutical companies etc. Bloggers gain their influence from dense links
    amongst themselves and associated groups like AHRP, and from occasional links from the
    mainstream media – The Times links to Fiddaman blog, for example.
    There are two agendas in the conversation: the official studies into the drug and its efficacy
    and drawbacks; the second is the experience of patients who have taken the drug and its
    impact on them, amplified through campaigning sites and bloggers. The two agendas
    converge only rarely. What this means is that the two groups are to some extent talking
    amongst themselves.
    The MHRA is itself highly influential on this issue – the choice of topic loaded the dice in its
    favour. The MHRA might improve its “Betweenness” – the extent to which its own information
    is used by patients or general researchers in this context by
    Making sure that publications on the topic use words and phrases consistent with the
    language of the patient group
    Ensuring that this information is available in flat HTML pages and on blog-style urls, for
    example “

  2. Matthew Holford Says:

    How sad it is that the halfwits more likely sought this information to kill debate, than to engage in it.


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