Boehringer’s tweetchat footshot

Boehringer is holding its second #COPDchat today (29 April).

I wrote last year about the presumption of holding a chat prior to having put in a significant amount of groundwork building a community, and I still see no evidence of Boehringer having undertaken this (in my opinion, far more important) action.

However, Boehringer appears to have taken a further retrograde step on this occasion by making pronouncements regarding participation that it neither has the right to request, nor the power to enforce:


COPDchat banner


The disclaimer text regarding the chat’s intended audience (‘For Non US/UK HCPs, Medical Media & Professional groups only’) raises a number of questions:

Why is it there in the first place?

I assume this is Boehringer’s legal folk earning their keep and requiring the inclusion of what I infer they consider to be a necessary disclaimer in the banner advertising the event, but I don’t recall the first chat being singled out by regulators.

Being properly introduced — as, it should be pointed out, the first chat was — with the usual provisos about not being able to offer medical advice, and judiciously avoiding publishing any posts about disease management that could be deemed to be promotional, what regulations could Boehringer be said to be in breach of?

I’d say: none.

This is a battle that should have been fought and won internally.

Boehringer have put themselves in an unnecessary position where they will draw criticism where none need have been forthcoming. The company was not required to include this inflammatory disclaimer, and I should not be having to write this post.

Other questions follow on from this unfortunate decision:

How does Boehringer plan to verify the identity of the participants?

Having done so, what does it intend to do if people take part who do not match these criteria?

If Boehringer intends to attempt to prevent other stakeholders taking part, what right does it have to do so?

The short form answer to this question is: there is nothing Boehringer can do, and therefore this disclaimer is both confusing and redundant.

Most importantly:

Why would a company that has aligned itself so closely with patient representation wish to exclude the very community it wants to be seen to be championing?

Far from being a ‘patients included‘ virtual event, #COPDchat expressly excludes them.

In short, this is a tangled mess of Boehringer’s own creation, and I’m disappointed that the event promotion includes this unnecessary and poorly considered disclaimer.


3 thoughts on “Boehringer’s tweetchat footshot

  1. In response, Boehringer Ingelheim would like to add the following:

    Due to the nature of country specific regulations and the nature of the topic for discussion today we considered this particular TweetChat to be appropriate for medical audiences. As twitter is an open forum, questions of general interest will be discussed. Personal and medical issues have to be discussed elsewhere due to these country regulations. We are being specific in our language because we take patient safety very seriously.

    Although our intention is not to discuss treatment, there might still be some content presented by participants during the TweetChat related to specific devices (therefore, potentially treatments) despite our guidance. As a pharma company, we need to comply with the regulations and not interact directly in discussions relating to any specific treatment with patients. We don’t want to encourage treatment discussion and therefore we want to be clear on the intended audience. Although we acknowledged that twitter is an open forum the discussion for today’s tweet chat was intended to be for medical audiences, Medical Media and Patient Organizations in order to understand the need and listen to their opinion.

    In the future, we are happy to plan TweetChats with topics for broader audiences. If you have good suggestions on topics for TweetChats that could/should be organized by us or that we could support you in, please do not hesitate in letting us know and we will work out a way to discuss those topics on twitter in the future.

    We are always prepared to listen to our followers and accept comments to improve our engagement with social media community for the future. You can reach out to us on

    Kind regards,
    Patricia from the Social Media team

    • Hi Patricia

      I appreciate the reply, and best of luck with the chat. I won’t be participating, obviously, as I am neither a person living with COPD, nor a healthcare professional. Plus, of course, I live in the UK… 😉

      Let me begin by saying I was somewhat surprised by Boehringer’s choice of topic (‘Which question springs to mind when thinking about COPD device choice? Do you think developments in social media effect patient treatment adherence?”). To my mind, this is something of a throwback to the era before participatory medicine and the shared decision making process of co-created care which patients should now rightfully expect to take a full and equal part in.

      I know that Boehringer is fully aware of these developments, and is of course at liberty to disregard them and focus on clinician-only dialogues.

      I suppose my question is: why would Boehringer choose a public forum such as Twitter to do this? A platform used by all communities of interest in the health conversation whose most enthusiastic, adept, and productive users are often patients? Patients such as @AfternoonNapper who, whilst not directly associated with the COPD conversation, are also entitled to air and expect a reply to queries concerning the rationale behind using a disclaimer that appeared to wish to exclude patients from conversations undertaken in a public digital space?

      If Boehringer wished to conduct a conversation around COPD that did not include patients, for whatever reason, doesn’t it seem somewhat inflammatory to do in an environment in which patients spend a great deal of their time, and are likely to notice and be disheartened by their exclusion?

      If Boehringer considered the discussion around devices to be so potentially controversial with regard to regulatory perceptions that the company’s responses may have constituted guidance that it deemed there to be an express need to state that patients are excluded, might it have been a good idea to choose another topic?

      For my part, I feel that there is a greater and more realistic risk that Boehringer could have damaged its reputation in the eyes of patients through its actions today than there ever could have been be in any perceived risk of the event incurring the displeasure of regulatory bodies.

      Finally, it’s interesting that you cite ‘patient organisations’ in your response when the banner refers to ‘professional groups’. I’ll confess that I assumed you meant healthcare professional bodies not patient ones. Also, I can’t quite reconcile your willingness to accept representatives of patient organisations in the chat, but not individual patients? Or perhaps that was a typo, in which case I would of course redact this comment.

      Thank you for your kind offer with regard to suggesting topics for tweetchats. I don’t have any at the current time, and still feel that the tweetchat vehicle is a difficult one to steer in the right direction without a relevant, vibrant community to support it.

      I look forward to seeing the data analysing which communities were represented in today’s #COPDchat.

  2. Pingback: It’s time for socially-competent US pharma companies to stop DTC advertising | STweM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s